Legendary actor James Caan, who starred in the Godfather trilogy and other renowned movies like Misery and The Gambler, died on July 6, according to a tweet posted to his official account.
“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6,” the tweet read. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
His manager, Matt DelPiano, confirmed to The Associated Press that he died on Wednesday. No cause was given.
“Jimmy was one of the greatest. Not only was he one of the best actors our business has ever seen, he was funny, loyal, caring and beloved,” DelPiano said. “Our relationship was always friendship before business. I will miss him dearly and am proud to have worked with him all these years.”
Tributes for Caan began to pour in Thursday morning, with many who worked with him tweeting their memories and condolences.
Rob Reiner, who directed Caan in Misery tweeted, “I loved working with him. And the only Jew I knew who could calf rope with the best of them.”
“Loved him very much. Always wanted to be like him,” tweeted Adam Sandler.
Iranian wrestler The Iron Sheik, apparantly a fan of Caan’s work, shared a message as well.
A football player at Michigan State University and a practical joker on production sets, Caan was a grinning, handsome performer with an athlete’s swagger and muscular build. He built a thriving Hollywood career, despite drug problems, outbursts of temper and minor brushes with the law.
Caan had been a favourite of Francis Ford Coppola since the 1960s, when Coppola cast him for the lead in Rain People. He was primed for a featured role in The Godfather as Sonny, the No. 1 enforcer and eldest son of Mafia boss Vito Corleone.
Sonny Corleone, a violent and reckless man who conducted many killings, met his own end in one of the most jarring movie scenes in history. On his way to another job, Corleone stops at a toll booth that he discovers is unnervingly empty of customers. Before he can escape he is cut down by a seemingly endless fusillade of machine-gun fire. For decades after, he once said, strangers would approach him on the street and jokingly warn him to stay clear of toll roads.
Caan bonded with Brando, Robert Duvall and other cast members and made it a point to get everyone laughing during an otherwise tense production, sometimes dropping his pants and “mooning” a fellow actor or crew member. Despite Coppola’s fears he had made a flop, the 1972 release was an enormous critical and commercial success and brought supporting actor Oscar nominations for Caan, Duvall and Al Pacino.
After Brian’s Song and The Godfather, he was one of Hollywood’s busiest actors, appearing in Hide in Plain Sight (which he also directed), Funny Lady (opposite Barbra Streisand), and Neil Simon’s Chapter Two, among others. He also made a brief appearance in a flashback sequence in The Godfather, Part II.
But by the early 1980s he began to sour on films. He had begun to struggle with drug use and was devastated by the 1981 leukemia death of his sister, Barbara, who until then had been a guiding force in his career.
He returned to full-fledged stardom opposite Kathy Bates in Misery in 1990.
Once again in demand, Caan starred in For the Boys with Bette Midler in 1991 as part of a song-and-dance team entertaining U.S. soldiers during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. The following year he played a tongue-in-cheek version of Sonny Corleone in the comedy Honeymoon in Vegas.
Later in his career he introduced himself to a new generation playing Walter, the workaholic, stone-faced father of Buddy’s Will Ferrell in Elf.
Caan is survived by sons Scott, James, Jacob and Alexander, as well as daughter Tara.
— with files from The Associated Press