Actor James Caan, known for his roles in “The Godfather” and other films over a long career, has died at 82, his family confirmed Thursday.
“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6,” a statement posted to the late actor’s Twitter page read. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
Born in 1940 in Queens, New York, Caan worked in Hollywood for over 60 years. He started in his 20s following a transfer from Michigan State University to Hofstra University, when he began booking guest roles on TV dramas like “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”
When he was 26, Caan appeared in the 1966 western “El Dorado,” alongside legends John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. The role launched his career, leading to additional projects like “Brian’s Song,” a TV movie about a terminally-ill football player.
Caan eventually landed the role of a lifetime: Sonny Corleone in the 1972 Francis Ford Coppola film “The Godfather.” His performance garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Following the success of “The Godfather,” Caan starred in films including “The Gambler,” “Rollerball,” “Thief,” and “Misery.” He also reprised his role as Sonny in a flashback scene in “The Godfather II.”
In the 1980s, Caan said he fell into depression and drug addiction while dealing with the loss of his sister to leukemia.
“I had a bad bout with cocaine for a little while,” he told CBS “Sunday Morning” in a 2021 interview. “I lost my sister when it happened. And she was like, I don’t know, when I lost her, I couldn’t, I couldn’t handle it, I didn’t know what to do.”
Caan won a new generation of fans when he starred in the 2003 Christmas film “Elf,” as Walter Hobbs, Buddy the Elf’s biological father who must learn the true meaning of Christmas and family. He said that he originally said no to Will Ferrell’s request to be in the movie but eventually changed his mind.
He also won acclaim for his portrayal of a casino boss in the TV series “Las Vegas.”
“I fought always never to be the same person,” Caan told CBS “Sunday Morning.” “I mean, the fun of being an actor is being somebody else for three months, you know?”
He had no intentions of slowing down and was still invested in continuing his work in Hollywood, including hopefully playing a “real character.”
“I can’t take it easy,” he said. “I enjoy working. I love to work with good people. I have more fun when I’m working, because I get to know new people, and mostly good people, you know? Really good — always in some, you know, some things there’s a couple of people you meet, and there’s a lot — I have a lot of laughs and I get respect, too, sometimes.”
Celebrities who starred alongside Caan shared tributes to the star on Thursday.
“Jimmy was my fictional brother and my lifelong friend,” Al Pacino, who starred in “The Godfather,” said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. “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 loved him, gonna miss him.”
Robert De Niro, who starred in “The Godfather: Part II,” said he was “very very sad to hear about Jimmy’s passing” in a statement.
“Team Mates and friends till the end. RIP Jimmy,” Billy Dee Williams of “Brian’s Song” tweeted.
Andy Richter, who appeared in “Elf,” said he was “shocked” by Caan’s death.
“Was lucky enough, after a lifetime of loving his work, to get to work with him and I loved him as a person even more,” he tweeted. “Funny, warm, self-deprecating, and effortlessly talented. They say never meet your heroes, but he proved that to be very very wrong.”
Caan’s co-star in “Funny Lady,” Barbra Streisand, tweeted that he was “so talented.”