Actor James Caan, best known for his role as Santino “Sonny” Corleone in “The Godfather” but hailed for memorable performances in films such as “Brian’s Song,” “Misery” and “Elf,” has died at age 82, his family announced Thursday.
“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6,” the family announced on Caan’s official Twitter account. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
No other details of his death were immediately released.
A native of the Bronx, New York, Caan played football at Michigan State University and even spent time performing in rodeos before turning to acting, beginning his career in several off-Broadway productions before landing small film roles.
He gained attention for his work opposite John Wayne and Robert Mitchum in “El Dorado,” then later nailed a tear-jerking performance in the television movie “Brian’s Song,” in which he portrayed Chicago Bears running back and cancer patient Brian Piccolo in 1971.
It was his work the following year in the “The Godfather” that cemented him as a star, portraying the hot-headed son of Marlon Brando’s mafia don. The role earned him an Oscar nomination for supporting actor.
He went on to appear in films including “Rollerball,” “The Killer Elite,” “A Bridge Too Far,” “Alien Nation,” “Dick Tracy,” “Honeymoon in Vegas” and “Eraser.”
Generally known for his tough-guy roles, Caan earned praise for his work as mild-manner author Paul Sheldon, who is imprisoned and tortured by Kathy Bates in “Misery.” He also portrayed Will Ferrell’s father in the Christmas classic comedy “Elf.”
Caan was married four times and had five children, including actor Scott Caan.
Billy Dee Williams, who starred with Caan in “Brian’s Song,” posted a photo with Caan on Twitter and wrote, “Team mates and friends til the end. RIP Jimmy.”
Rob Reiner, who directed “Misery,” wrote, “So sorry to hear the news. I loved working with him. And the only Jew I knew who could calf rope with the best of them. Love to the family.”
Al Pacino called his “The Godfather” co-star his “fictional brother and my lifelong friend.”
“It’s hard to believe that he won’t be in the world anymore because he was so alive and daring,” Pacino said in a statement. “A great actor, a brilliant director and my dear friend. I’m gonna miss him.”