Veteran American actor James Caan, best known for playing Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, has died at the age of 82. The veteran actor, who also appeared in films like Misery, Thief, and Rollerball, was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Sonny. Caan was awarded a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1978. After early roles in Howard Hawks’s El Dorado (1966), Robert Altman’s Countdown (1967) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People (1969), he came to prominence playing his signature role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather (1972), following which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. He reprised the role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather Part II (1974) with a cameo appearance at the end.
Caan was born on March 26, 1940, in The Bronx, New York City, to Sophie (née Falkenstein; 1915–2016) and Arthur Caan (1909–1986), Jewish immigrants from Germany. His father was a meat dealer and butcher. One of three siblings, Caan grew up in Sunnyside, Queens. He was educated in New York City, and later attended Michigan State University (MSU). Caan began appearing off-Broadway in plays such as La Ronde before making his Broadway debut in Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole. Caan’s first television appearance was in an episode of Naked City. After several guest roles in tv shows, Caan’s first substantial film role was as a punk hoodlum who gets his eyes poked out in the 1964 thriller Lady in a Cage.
He was fourth-billed in a Western feature, The Glory Guys (1965). In 1965, Caan landed his first starring role, in Howard Hawks’ auto-racing drama Red Line 7000. It was not a financial success. However Hawks liked Caan and cast him in his next film, El Dorado, playing Alan Bourdillion Traherne, a.k.a. Mississippi, in support of John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. He then had the starring role in Robert Altman’s second feature film, Countdown (1968) and was second billed in the Curtis Harrington thriller Games (1968). Caan went to Britain to star in a war film, Submarine X-1 (1968), then played the lead in a Western, Journey to Shiloh (1968).
He had a big hit with Funny Lady (1975) playing Billy Rose opposite Barbra Streisand’s Fanny Brice. Caan starred in two big action films, Norman Jewison’s Rollerball (1975) as a star athlete of a deadly extreme sport, and Sam Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite (1975). Both were popular, though Caan hated Elite. The movie was not a popular success but Alien Nation (1988), where Caan played a cop who partnered with an alien, did well. The film received a television spinoff. Caan was planning to make an action film in Italy, but then heard Rob Reiner was looking for a leading man in his adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery (1990). He also starred alongside Arnold in Eraser, and won, the role of Montecito Hotel/Casino president “Big Ed” Deline in Las Vegas which he played for 4 seasons.
Caan was married four times. His son Scott Caan, who also is an actor, was born August 23, 1976 to him and second wife Sheila Marie Ryan. Caan was married to Ingrid Hajek from September 1990 to March 1994; they had a son, Alexander James Caan, born 1991. Caan married Linda Stokes on October 7, 1995, they had two sons, James Arthur Caan (born 1995) and Jacob Nicholas Caan (born 1998). Caan filed for divorce in 2017, citing irreconcilable differences. Caan was a practicing martial artist. He had trained with Takayuki Kubota for nearly 30 years, earning various ranks.