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James Caan, who played Sonny Corleone in ‘The Godfather Dies at 82

James Caan, who played Sonny Corleone in ‘The Godfather Dies at 82. A Hollywood leading man of the 1970s died on July 6 at 82. He was known for his tough-guy screen presence as the gun-toting Mafioso Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather,” but he also showed that he was a versatile actor with a wry sense of humour and a surprising soft side.

A message on his official Twitter account said that he had died. His publicist, Arnold Robinson, said that no more information would be given right away.

James Caan, who played Sonny Corleone in ‘The Godfather Dies at 82

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The story of James Caan’s life and the progression of his career

Mr. Caan grew up in the rough streets of New York’s outer boroughs in the 1940s and 1950s. His father was a butcher who had fled Nazi Germany. He was a thin boy who used his fists to defend himself. People called him “Killer Caan,” and he was proud that he never lost his street smarts or his raspy Queens accent. He said he was still just a “punk from Sunnyside,” even though his mysterious smile and air of danger helped him have a Hollywood career that lasted for more than 60 years and included more than 130 credits.

He kept his strut and confidence off-screen by getting a black belt in karate and doing things like racing powerboats and roping steers for fun. “I think I can say with confidence,” he said, “that I was the only Jewish cowboy from New York who worked as a professional rodeo cowboy.” He was stubborn and sometimes hurt himself, and he went through four divorces and was addicted to cocaine.

Roger Ebert, a film critic, praised him by calling him “the most wound-up guy in movies.” James Caan didn’t argue with that. Shortly after “Misery” (1990), in which Mr. Caan played a writer who was held hostage by a fan with a hammer, did well at the box office, he joked that director Rob Reiner had played a cruel game by making him, “the most hyper guy in Hollywood,” act the part while tied to a bed for 15 weeks.

Mr. Caan became an actor on a whim because he didn’t want to “hump sides of meat from trucks to restaurants” with his father in the freezing cold early in the morning. He was good at making people laugh, a skill he honed one summer as the social director of a resort in the Catskills. He then lied his way into the Neighborhood Playhouse, a prestigious theatre training programme in Manhattan.

Before he got into movies, Mr. Caan got a long string of guest roles on TV thanks to his dark looks and unpredictability. At first, he was cast in action scenes where he was in the saddle, a racecar, a control tower, or a spaceship. But when he had the chance, he showed that he was a performer with a quiet intelligence and sensitivity.

Reviewers liked his role as a brain-damaged ex-athlete in “The Rain People” (1969), which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola but didn’t get a lot of attention because studio executives didn’t think it would be popular. In the TV movie “Brian’s Song,” he played Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo, who was dying of cancer. This was his first big role (1971).

The movie, which was about friendship between people of different races, was seen by 55 million people, and Mr. Caan was nominated for an Emmy for best actor. The following year, Coppola chose him to play Sonny Corleone, the oldest son of the mafia boss, in “The Godfather.”

Marlon Brando played his aged father, Vito, and Al Pacino played his sad younger brother, Michael. Mr. Caan, on the other hand, more than held his own as the rough and angry Sonny. Mr Caan said that comedian Don Rickles’s unsettling way of “busting everybody’s chops” in vicious takedowns helped him get into character.

He tells Michael how to kill a rival gangster and a crooked police captain: “You have to get up close, like this, and bada bing! You blow their minds with your nice suit from an Ivy League school. ” Mr. Caan made up the phrase “bada bing,” which “became a mantra for mobsters and would-be mobsters,” according to a 2009 article in Vanity Fair. It was also the name of the strip club on the HBO show “The Sopranos.”

Sonny gets what he deserves when, while stuck in his car at a tollbooth, he is hit by machine-gun fire that sounds like a war zone. Mr. Caan wore about 150 small explosives called “squibs” for a scene that took three days to film. He told the London Observer, “When they went off, it felt like I was getting punched all over.” “If I had put my hand in front of one, it would have blown right through.” He also said, “I wouldn’t have done it if there weren’t so many girls on the set to impress.”

“The Godfather” was a huge hit at the box office, won several Oscars, including best picture, helped bring the gangster genre back to life, and was ranked second on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest movies of all time in 2007. Mr. Caan, who was up for best supporting actor, had to hear tollbooth jokes for decades.

He played an athlete in “Rollerball,” which came out in 1975, in which the government paid people to kill each other. In “A Bridge Too Far,” which came out in 1977, he played a brave Army sergeant, and in “Thief,” he was a master safecracker (1981). For the last one, which he thought was his best, he learned the right way to do things from former thieves who were hired as technical advisors.

In an attempt to be different, he wrote a lot of flops and mediocre works, such as “Freebie and the Bean” (1974). He turned down leading roles in movies like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” which he called “middle-class bourgeois,” and “Apocalypse Now” by Coppola.

Mr. Caan said that after “The Godfather,” he rarely got a script that didn’t have a pile of dead bodies in the first 10 minutes.

  • In “Slither” (1973), he played a sailor who ends up taking care of the mixed-race son of a prostitute.
  • In “Cinderella Liberty” (1973), he played a college English professor who owes money to bookies.
  • In “The Gambler” (1974), he played a college English professor who owes money to bookies. In the film “Funny Lady,” in which Barbra Streisand played an entertainer,

He played an athlete in “Rollerball,” which came out in 1975. In which the government paid people to kill each other. In “A Bridge Too Far,” which came out in 1977, he played a brave Army sergeant, and in “Thief,” he was a master safecracker (1981). For the last one, which he thought was his best, he learned the right way to do things from former thieves who were hired as technical advisors.

 

In an attempt to be different. He wrote a lot of flops and mediocre works, such as “Freebie and the Bean” (1974). He turned down leading roles in movies like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” which he called “middle-class bourgeois,” and “Apocalypse Now” by Coppola.

Mr. Caan told The Washington Post that he turned down the role. Because when Francis Ford Coppola called him about “Apocalypse Now,” all he said was “16 weeks in the Philippine jungle.” In the same interview, he said that Brando was shocked when James Caan turned down the title role of “Superman” in 1978, even though he was offered millions of dollars for what was essentially a cartoon role. Brando played Jor-El in the movie. “Yes, Marlon, but you don’t have to wear the suit,” he said. The first movie was a big hit, and Christopher Reeve played the lead role.

 

As his career went downhill, Mr. Caan got a reputation for acting strangely in both his personal and professional life. In interviews, he couldn’t stop bad-mouthing movies made by big-name directors, especially. The way Hollywood loves special effects more than character-driven plots.

 

He was praised by critics for “Hide in Plain Sight,” a 1980 low-budget drama he starred in and directed. It was based on a true story about a man’s fight to find his children. After his ex-wife and her mob-informant husband went into the witness protection programme. But Mr. Caan said it was buried by the studio. He told the London Independent, “There were no sharks in it. So those two idiots at MGM didn’t know what to do with it.”

 

In the meantime, he lived a wild life as a regular at the Playboy Mansion. After his younger sister and best friend, Barbara Caan, died of leukaemia in 1981, he became very dependent on cocaine. When it was found out that he owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxe. He lost his life savings and his home. He said that bad business managers were to blame but he also said that he was to blame. Because he was on drugs and didn’t notice.

 

In the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Caan went to drug rehab at least twice, and he stayed in the news. Once, he was accused of slapping and choking his girlfriend, and another time. He pulled a gun during a fight over a parking space. Caan also said that he was friends with people who were thought to be gangsters. He said of a close friend from his time in New York, “I know he’s not a carpenter, okay?”

 

When Coppola fought for him to play an Army sergeant in the Vietnam-era military drama “Gardens of Stone,” he was almost unhirable (1987). Critics loved how quiet and moving he was as a loner. Who loves the Army but hates war, but the movie didn’t get much attention for long.

 

Mr. Caan started his comeback to fame with a string of scary character roles. So he was older and grayer, but he still had a dangerous charm. He played Sonny Corleone in the crime comedies “Honeymoon in Vegas” (1992), “Bottle Rocket” (1996), and “Mickey Blue Eyes.” He was also a former CIA agent who worked for four seasons as a casino security guard on the hit NBC show “Las Vegas” (2003).

 

Mr. Caan cursed at the mere mention of “Alien Nation,” A science-fiction police buddy movie from 1988 about aliens living among Angelenos, and “For the Boys,” a Bette Midler musical about a U.S.O. troupe that bombed big time in 1991.

From a “tackling dummy” to an actor

James Edmund Caan was born on March 26, 1940, in the Bronx. He grew up in a part of Queens. That he later said was “not a good place to be an artist.” After getting kicked out of several public schools for acting up. He was able to graduate at 16 from the Rhodes School, a prep school in Manhattan. He joked that his teachers sped up his classes just to get rid of him.

 

James went to Michigan State University hoping to play football. On its famous team, but he ended up as a “tackling dummy,” he said. He dropped out of Hofstra College in New York after getting into a fight with an ROTC leader. Before he joined the Neighborhood Playhouse in Manhattan on a whim. He worked as a lifeguard and a bouncer, among other odd jobs.

 

After being a spear-carrier on stage for a short time, he moved to California. In “Lady in a Cage,” one of his first movie roles, he played a cruel hood. Who tormented Olivia de Havilland while she was stuck in her home elevator (1964). Director Howard Hawks, who is known for finding new talent. And gave him the lead role in the 1965 racecar drama. “Red Line 7000” and then gave him a major supporting role as a rebellious knife-fighter opposite John Wayne in “El Dorado” (1966).

 

Off-screen, Mr. Caan and Wayne had a tense but playful relationship. Wayne went out of his way to help the young actor. Who didn’t seem at all scared of working with the legendary western star? Wayne played jokes on people, like when he put trash in Mr. Caan’s dressing room. Mr. Caan said that he told Wayne to stop cheating at chess in between takes. He told the Guardian, “He was so stupid.” He’d say, “Hey, Jimmy, what’s that over there?” and push the rook around. while I looked over there like a fool.

JAMES CAAN : All of those marriages ended in divorce

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He was married to dancer Dee Jay Mattis, Playboy model Sheila Ryan, actress Ingrid Hajek, and costume designer Linda Stokes. All of those marriages ended in divorce. He had five children from his second marriage, including actor Scott Caan.

 

Later, Mr. Caan played Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dishonest boss in “Eraser” (1996. A mobster in Lars von Trier’s disturbing avant-garde drama “Dogville” (2003), a man-child as Will Ferrell’s irritable father in “Elf” (2003), and a “ripped” priest with a bad temper in Adam Sandler’s comedy “That’s My Boy” (2005). (2012).

 

In a career and personal life that was full of ups and downs. He was glad that “Misery” was a hit and that “The Godfather” was a landmark movie.

 

He told Cigar Aficionado magazine, “Look when you first get into this business. All you can do is pray that you’ll become famous.” “From ‘Misery,’ a lot of people ask me, ‘Hey, is your ankle okay?’ Or they’ll tell you, “Hey, don’t go through that toll booth again,” or “Have the right change.”

 

He added, “It means they remember the picture.” “There is nothing wrong with it. The only thing that bothers me a little is when I’m in a restaurant and someone points at me. I got a bit off track. “No, you come here!” I say. What, am I some kind of taxi? ‘” On the other hand, he said, “I hope they don’t stop.”

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