James Caan died yesterday at the age of 82. No cause of death was given. Mr. Caan’s family released the following statement:
“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6. The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
James Caan attended Michigan State University for two years where he played football. He then transferred to Hofstra University in New York. This is where he developed his interest in acting. Mr. Caan’s first roles were in off-Broadway plays. Soon he was getting guest appearances on television. Some of James Caan’s roles included parts on Naked City, Route 66, The Untouchables, Dr. Kildare, Combat!, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Get Smart.
James Caan’s first feature film appearance was in Lady in a Cage. More film roles followed. A few of his appearances include Red Line 7000, El Dorado, Countdown and The Rain People.
In 1971, James Caan starred as Brian Piccolo in Brian’s Song. Brian’s Song was a tv movie that co-starred Billy Dee Williams as Gayle Sayers. Piccolo and Sayers played for the Chicago Bears and became good friends before Piccolo tragically died from cancer. The movie was a huge success.
The following year Mr. Caan appeared as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. After that there was no looking back. James Caan racked up over 135 credits on his resume including films such as The Gambler, Rollerball, The Killer Elite, Thief, Alien Nation, Misery, Eraser, Poodle Springs, The Way of the Gun and Elf. James Caan also starred in the television series Las Vegas from 2003 – 2007.
I probably first saw James Caan on one of his many television appearances since he appeared on many shows that I watched. But it was his role as Brian Piccolo that got my attention. Everyone was talking about the movie the next day at school. James Caan was cool! Then he followed that role up as Sonny Corleone, the hothead brother in The Godfather! What a one-two punch.
Many people are listing their favorite James Caan roles in films such as Misery, Thief and The Godfather. Those were all great Jimmy Caan roles, but I wish more folks were recognizing his part as Joe Sarno in The Way of the Gun. Sarno was my favorite character in the film and Caan was perfect as the tough, old guy, (years before Jonathan Banks became a fan favorite as Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul). Caan as Sarno had the perfect delivery on lines such as, “The only thing you can guess about a broken down old man is that he is a survivor” and “I promise you a day of reckoning that you won’t live long enough to never forget.”
I was glad to see Sly Stallone and James Caan acting together in two episodes of Caan’s series Las Vegas.
James Caan was not only an excellent actor, he was a legit tough guy and athlete. He did many of his own stunts. As a young man he participated in rodeos. He played college football. And perhaps the thing I admired most about James Caan was that what you saw is what you got. He came across the same in all his interviews as a guy who enjoyed life.
James Caan has one final film in post-production. It’s called Fast Charlie. The screenplay is based on Victor Gischler’s Gun Monkeys. (I’ve read the book and highly recommend it!) Pierce Brosnan is the lead. I’m happy that we have one more James Caan film coming and it should be a banger! Of course anything that James Caan was in was better because of him.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to James Caan’s family, friends and fans.