James Caan Dead: New Hollywood Icon and Beloved Godfather and Misery Star Was 82

James Caan is dead at the age of 82, his family confirmed on Thursday. “The Godfather” actor shot to superstardom after playing the doomed Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 adaptation of the Mario Puzo novel, but he gained fans across decades. Not many actors could simulate being shot with dozens of bullets in one of the most bloody dramatic scenes from “The Godfather” and also star opposite Barbra Streisand in the musical sequel “Funny Lady” — or be tormented by Kathy Bates in the Stephen King adaptation “Misery.” Or play the curmudgeonly book publisher who finds he’s the father of one of Santa’s workers in “Elf.”

Born in 1940 in the Bronx, Caan entered Hollywood on the strength of his good looks before it became clear he was a serious actor. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Germany, and he initially crossed paths with Coppola while they were both students at Long Island’s Hofstra University. There, he became interested in acting and ultimately transferred to New York City’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. He appeared in Off-Broadway plays, and TV bit parts before making his debut in the 1963 Billy Wilder film “Irma La Douce.” The next year his punk character would have his eyes gouged out in the Olivia de Havilland “trapped in an elevator” thriller “Lady in a Cage.”

Caan’s first starring role was in Howard Hawks’ “Red Line 7000,” a stock-car racing drama. But the film bombed. Caan’s biggest initial success was arguably the loose “Rio Bravo” remake, “El Dorado,” also for Hawks. The 1967 Western starred John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, and the role existed primarily to show off Caan’s matinee idol looks and lowkey sense of cool. Wayne taken an interest in developing young actors, and he often played off them in near-equal parts: Ricky Nelson in “Rio Bravo” and Fabian in “North to Alaska” come to mind. Caan’s character “Mississippi” is basically just a do-over of Nelson’s “Colorado” from “Rio Bravo” except “Mississippi” is an expert knife thrower.

Solid movie, but not necessarily one that showed Caan’s range as a serious actor, despite his recitation of Edgar Allan Poe throughout the movie. It certainly didn’t show his years of being an acting student. Nor did all his guest roles on “Get Smart,” “The F.B.I.,” “Death Valley Days,” and “Dr. Kildare.”

It was Coppola who first allowed Caan to really stretch himself, as a brain-damaged football player in his 1969 drama “The Rain People.” Type-casting could have followed, because his next role immediately after that one was as a dying football player in 1971’s “Brian’s Song,” in which he played the title character, Brian Piccolo, a real life Chicago Bears halfback who was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after turning pro. The film also raised the profile of a young Billy Dee Williams who played the legendary Gale Sayers, and the story is told through the lens of Sayers’ friendship with Piccolo. The film is considered one of the best made-for-TV movies ever aired by a broadcast network and the definitive “guy cry” movie.

And of course an extravagant death awaited him in “The Godfather.” His Sonny Corleone was the heir apparent to Marlon Brando’s Don Vito, save for his short fuse, that resulted in him infamously being gunned down at a toll booth outside Long Beach, New York. The rawness of the character, the charisma of the character, and one rather hot-and-heavy sex scene (that resulted in Andy Garcia’s character from “The Godfather Part III” existing), and the fact that it was, for a time, the highest-grossing film ever made as well as a Best Picture winner, catapulted him to Hollywood’s absolute A-list. He was nominated at the Oscars for Best Supporting Actor for the part, up against castmates Robert Duvall and Al Pacino. They all lost, with the prize going to Joel Grey for “Cabaret.”


More to come…

Source: Read Full Article