James Caan, ‘Godfather,’ ‘Misery, ‘Elf’ Icon, Dies @ 82

"It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6," read an announcement on James Caan's Twitter account Thursday. "The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time."

In The Gambler (Image via Paramount)

Keeping up his traditional sign-off, it concluded: "End of tweet."

The movie icon, so famous as Sonny Corleone he was often mistaken for Italian-American (he was the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany), died at 82 with no cause offered.

Nearly 60 years ago, in Irma La Douce (Image via video still)

Born March 26, 1940, in the Bronx, after becoming interested in acting, Caan worked off-Broadway and on TV, making his debut on Naked City in 1961 and going on to guest on such series as Route 66 (1961), The Untouchables (1962), Dr. Kildare (1963), and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1964).

He made his Broadway debut in 1961's Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole, and hit the big screen — uncredited — for the first time in Irma La Douce (1963).

He had a juicy role as a hood in the campy thriller Lady in a Cage (1964) opposite Olivia de Havilland, who raved about his work.

With Rafael Campos in Lady in a Cage (Image via video still)

Continuing to surround himself with big names, his first starring role in a feature was in Howard Hawks's Red Line 7000 (1965).

Role of a lifetime (GIF via GIPHY)

Caan was inarguably an up-and-comer when he landed the role of Sonny in Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 epic The Godfather, which is frequently cited as the greatest film of all time. He, Al Pacino and Robert Duvall were all nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscars for the film, along with Eddie Albert in The Heartbreak Kid, but all lost to an even more iconic Joel Grey in Cabaret.

Caan had already appeared in such films as the 1966 western El Dorado with screen legends John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, Robert Altman's Countdown (1967), had worked with Coppola in 1969's The Rain People, and starred in the title role of Brian's Song (1971), an early made-for-TV movie, about the friendship between Black football player Gale Sayers and his doomed white teammate, Brian Piccolo. Piccolo had died of cancer the year before it aired.

With Billy Dee Williams in Brian's Song (Image via video still)

It was Sonny Corleone that gave Caan his chance to show what he could do, a character with a short fuse who died as spectacularly as he lived.

After The Godfather became a pop cultural sensation — he reprised his role for a brief flashback scene in The Godfather: Part II (1974) — Caan had his pick of parts, and appeared in such films as Slither (1973), Cinderella Liberty (1973), The Gambler (1974), Freebie and the Bean (1974), Funny Lady (1975) with Barbra Streisand, Rollerball (1975), Mel Brooks's Silent Movie (1976), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Comes a Horseman (1978) and Chapter Two (1979), some of the most popular and/or critically acclaimed films of the decade.

Still, Caan was famously choosy, turning down roles in everything from M*A*S*H (1970) to Star Wars (1977) to Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) to Superman (1978) — for the latter he "didn't want to wear the cape" — and his output slowed a bit in the '80s, a process exacerbated as he battled depression over his sister's untimely death from leukemia.

He hit another critical high as the star of the low-key, neo-noir Thief (1981) by Michael Mann. A flop, it grew in status and was his second favorite James Caan film.

Mann told Variety of Caan's death, "What a terrible and tragic loss. Jimmy was not just a great actor with total commitment and a venturesome spirit, but he had a vitality in the core of his being that drove everything from his art and friendship to athletics and very good times. There was a core of values within him about how people should be, more or less. It might be variable, the corners could be rounded with urban irony, but there was a line and it was non-fungible. And it produced many outrageous and hilarious anecdotes."

He had a comeback of sorts with Gardens of Stone (1987) for Coppola and appeared in the hits Alien Nation (1988) and Dick Tracy (1990).

Agony of the feet (Image via Columbia)

With the release in 1990 of Misery, directed by Rob Reiner from Stephen King's book, Caan achieved his second biggest hit and notched another unforgettable role, this time as a writer physically hobbled by a crazed fan (Kathy Bates, in an Oscar-winning performance) who simply didn't like how he was planning to end a cherished story.

Other films included For the Boys (1991) with Bette Midler, Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), Wes Anderson's debut Bottle Rocket (1996), Eraser (1996), The Yards (2000), The Way of the Gun (2000), the arthouse fave Dogville (2003), and the massive comedy hit Elf (2003).

Though rarely on TV after he became a movie star, Caan was on four seasons of Las Vegas (2003-2007), made a guest appearance on son Scott Caan's Hawaii Five-0 TV series in 2012, returned to mobster mode in the Starz drama Magic City (2013), and also appeared in the short-lived Back in the Game (2013).

He voiced a major part in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and its sequel (2013).

He worked steadily in films, with the 2021 comedy about aging Queen Bees (2021) his last release before he died. Another film, Fast Charlie, is thought to be coming in 2023.

Married and divorced four times, Caan is survived by a daughter and four sons.

Among many Hollywood tributes, Adam Sandler tweeted, "James Caan. Loved him very much. Always wanted to be like him. So happy I got to know him. Never ever stopped laughing when I was around that man. His movies were best of the best. We all will miss him terribly. Thinking of his family and sending my love."

Caan in 2021 (Image via CBS Sunday Morning)

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