James Caan, Iconic Actor In The Godfather, Is Dead

By Michileen Martin | Published

james caan

The Oscar-nominated actor James Caan died Wednesday night at the age of 82. His passing was announced on social media via the actor’s Twitter account. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the sad news was confirmed by the actor’s representatives. No cause of death has been made public. You can see the tweet announcing his passing below.

The role for which James Caan will likely remain best remembered for years to come is as the big-mouthed, hot-headed mobster Santino “Sonny” Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather. When Sonny’s father Vito (Marlon Brando) is nearly murdered, it’s Sonny who takes over the family business and wages war on his rivals. His enemies use his legendary temper against him, eventually maneuvering him into one of the most incredible mob death scenes of the genre. Caan received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the role, though the win went to Joel Grey for the 1972 musical Cabaret.

As much as James Caan was honored by his part of The Godfather, he would later reveal he walked out of the film’s premiere screening when he discovered a scene had been cut. In March, Caan told THR about it. If you’ve seen the film, you will remember that when Sonny’s brother Michael (Al Pacino) proposes that he should be the one to kill a corrupt cop and rival gangster, Sonny laughs at his younger brother, saying “You’ll get blood all of your ivy league suit!” Just before that scene, Caan said, there was a scene between him and his adoptive brother Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) “that was like 10 pages long,” but it was cut. “I was so pissed off, I couldn’t watch the rest of the film,” Caan recalled.

james caan misery
James Caan and Kathy Bates in Misery (1990)

Stephen King fans may best remember James Caan as the hero of what is unquestionably one of the best adaptations of a King story: 1990’s Misery. Based on King’s 1987 novel of the same name, Misery finds Caan in the role of best-selling romance author Paul Sheldon who nearly dies in a car crash in a remote area of Colorado. He’s saved by former nurse and Paul Sheldon super-fan Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), but it turns out his savior is more twisted than anyone he’s ever written about, and rather than nursing him back to health Annie means to keep him as her prisoner.

Other memorable roles include his Emmy-nominated turn as the football player Piccolo in the 1971 TV movie Brian’s Song, the stubborn Jonathan E in the 1975 sci-fi dystopian thriller Rollerball, and Will Ferrell’s bio-dad in the 2003 holiday comedy classic Elf. In 1988, Caan and Mandy Patinkin paved the way for Will Smith and Joel Edgerton’s Bright with the more sci-fi themed Alien Nation. He landed his first starring TV role in the NBC Dramedy Las Vegas.

james caan alien nation
James Caan and Mandy Patinkin in Alien Nation (1988)

James Caan still has a few projects in various levels of production which may feature him posthumously. In March Deadline announced Caan, Morena Baccarin, and Pierce Brosnan were cast in the upcoming hitman thriller Fast Charlie. Filming was due to begin in New Orleans in early June and IMDb lists the project as being in post-production. There’s also the films Redemption and Acre Beyond the Rye. IMDb lists both projects as simply “announced,” though the page for the latter film features photos suggesting production was further along.