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James Caan: The Godfather, Rollerball, Misery Star Passes at 82

James Caan, one of the most venerable presences on the silver screen, passed at the age of 82, his family announced on July 7th. In a career spanning seven decades, the actor got his start in 1961 in the TV series Naked City playing Marty Feketi in the episode "Bullets Cost Too Much." He would regularly continue to appear on TV until 1965 as he was featured in films like the United Artists Western The Glory Guys and Paramount's racing feature Red Line 7000. Caan would also do occasional TV work as a film star with appearances on The F.B.I. and Get Smart. The actor landed his signature role in 1972's The Godfather as the hot-headed Sonny Corleone, which garnered him his sole Oscar nomination.

James Caan attends the premiere of 'Blood Ties' during the 66th Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals on May 20, 2013 in Cannes, France, photo by Denis Makarenko /
James Caan attends the premiere of 'Blood Ties' during the 66th Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals on May 20, 2013 in Cannes, France, photo by Denis Makarenko /

Some of Caan's other notable work in the 70s includes The Gambler (1974), Funny Lady (1975), Rollerball (1975), Silent Movie (1976), and the TV movie Brian's Song (1971). In the 1980s, the actor took a brief hiatus from the screen but did star in memorable projects like UA's Thief (1981) and 20th Century Studios' Alien Nation (1988), which spawned a TV series of the same name. The '90s produced some of Caan's career-best work with several high profile projects like the live-action adaptation of Dick Tracy (1990) as the mobster Spaldooni. He starred opposite Kathy Bates (winning her an Oscar for Best Actress) in 1990's Misery as author Paul Sheldon, the victim of an obsessed fan bent on holding him captive. Caan also starred in the memorable New Line comedy Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) opposite Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker.

James Caan, 'The Godfather', 'Rollerball', 'Misery' Star Passes at 82
James Caan and Talia Shire in The Godfather (1972). Image courtesy of Paramount

Caan would continue playing diverse roles ranging from his tough guy persona to comedy, one such comedy gem was the Will Ferrell mega holiday hit Elf (2003). The actor would reprise his role from the Francis Ford Coppola film for the mid-2000s video game adaptations lending his voice. He would occasionally star on TV shows throughout his career like the NBC drama Las Vegas, which lasted five seasons, ABC's Back in the Game, and Magic City. He even returned to play the President in the 2008 feature adaptation of Get Smart. In Caan's final years, the actor took more indie roles like Queen Bee (2001), IFC's Out of the Blue (2018), and Con Man (2018). His final project was the film Fast Charlie for Screen Media, which is slated for a 2023 release.

James Caan, 'The Godfather', 'Rollerball', 'Misery' Star Passes at 82
Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery (1990). Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Others from across Hollywood poured their tributes in. "What a terrible and tragic loss," Michael Mann, who directed Caan in Thief wrote in a statement to Variety. "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."

"I loved him and I loved working with him," Mann continued. "He reached into the core of his being during difficult personal times to be the rebellious, half-wild child, institutionalized outsider Frank, in my first film, 'Thief.' Frank is half Frank, half Jimmy. The character and the man — like his Sonny in 'The Godfather' — were made for each other. Unique. What a loss."

James Caan, 'The Godfather', 'Rollerball', 'Misery' Star Passes at 82
Amy Sedaris, James Caan, and Will Ferrell in Elf (2003). Image courtesy of New Line Cinema

"I can't believe Jimmy's gone," Bates wrote. "Working with him on 'Misery' was one of the most profound experiences of my career. When you watch his performance, his terror, it's as though he's watching a snake. Brilliant. So many memories flooding back today. Jimmy saying, 'Let's get the most hyper guy in Hollywood and make him stay in bed for 15 weeks.' We were so excited when we got to shoot in the dining room. He was kind. Hilarious. He would have something insightfully funny to say right now. I'm bereft. Sending all my love to the Caan family."

"Jimmy was someone who stretched through my life longer and closer than any motion picture figure I've ever known," Coppola wrote to Deadline. "From those earlier times working together on The Rain People, and throughout all the milestones of my life, his films and the many great roles he played will never be forgotten. He will always be my old friend from Sunnyside, my collaborator and one of the funniest people I've ever known."

"Jimmy was my fictional brother and my lifelong friend," Caan's Godfather costar Al Pacino said in a statement. "It's hard to believe that he won't be in the world anymore because he was so alive and daring. A great actor, a brilliant director and my dear friend. I'm gonna miss him."

Robert De Niro added: "I'm very, very sad to hear about Jimmy's passing."

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Tom ChangAbout Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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