James Caan, the veteran screen actor known for his work in such films as “The Godfather,” “Misery” and “Elf,” has died, his family said in a statement on his verified Twitter account. He was 82.
“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6,” the statement read. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
They did not disclose a cause of death.
Caan first found fame playing Chicago Bears halfback Brian Piccolo in “Brian’s Song,” a widely seen 1971 TV movie. The tearjerking film chronicled Piccolo’s real-life battle with terminal cancer and drew praise for its treatment of the interracial friendship between Piccolo and a Black teammate, Gale Sayers.
His next movie, 1972’s “The Godfather,” made Caan a star. Although he was not Italian, Caan was cast as hotheaded Sonny Corleone, the oldest of mobster Vito Corleone’s three sons, who is memorably gunned down by rival gangsters at a tollbooth.
In a 2021 interview for “CBS Sunday Morning,” Caan said he based Sonny’s persona on the late comedian Don Rickles.
“It wasn’t imitating Don Rickles. It was having that drive, that thing, you know? I was just locked into that,” he said of his performance.
The role earned him an Oscar nomination. Caan also appeared in a flashback in “The Godfather, Part II.”
Caan was perhaps best known for playing tough-guy characters in such films as “Thief” and “Rollerball.” But he was a versatile actor who commanded a variety of roles, including “Misery,” the 1990 Stephen King adaptation about a mild-mannered romance novelist terrorized by an obsessive fan.
He is probably best known to younger audiences for his role in “Elf,” the Christmas tale in which he played Will Ferrell’s Scrooge-like father, a children’s book publisher unhappy to learn he has an exuberant grown son who wears an elf costume and pours maple syrup on his spaghetti.
In the same CBS interview, Caan said he almost turned down the role over the film’s title alone but Ferrell convinced him to join the project.
This is a developing story and will be updated.