James Caan, The Godfather and The Gambler Actor, Dead at 82

James Caan. Photo: Matt Carr/Getty Images

James Caan, a muse for New Hollywood auteurs and recipient of numerous acting honors, has died, representatives confirmed on Twitter. “It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6,” the tweet reads. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.” Caan was 82. Born in the Bronx in 1940, he fell in love with acting while attending Hofstra University on Long Island and chose to pursue the craft at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, where he studied for five years. He began his career in earnest with appearances in Off Broadway plays before debuting on Broadway in 1961’s production of Blood, Sweat, and Stanley Poole.

During the early 1960s, Caan got picked up for bit film and television parts, but his big break came with his starring role in Howard Hawks’s car-racing drama Red Line 7000 (1965). He went on to work with some of the most exciting New Hollywood directors of the day, playing an astronaut in training in Robert Altman’s 1968 sci-fi flick Countdown and a teenager on the lam with an older woman in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1969 road movie The Rain People. In 1971, he starred in the critically acclaimed television film Brian’s Song, which follows the true story of a Chicago Bears football player’s cancer diagnosis.

Caan’s partnership with Coppola became iconic when he was cast as the ineffectual mafia heir Sonny Corleone in the first installment of the Godfather epic (1972). Caan cemented his Hollywood status with Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actor. He went on to star in the critically acclaimed films The Gambler, Thief, and Misery. He was set to reunite with Coppola on his latest film, Megalopolis, which will begin shooting this September, making Caan’s last film the romantic comedy Queen Bees.

James Caan, The Godfather and The Gambler Actor, Dead at 82