He had played one of the Corleone sons in the legendary “Godfather”, and a sequestered writer in the distressing “Misery”: American actor James Caan died at 82 after a long career where he played for the most great directors.
“It is with great sadness that we inform you of Jimmy’s passing on the evening of (Wednesday) July 6th.“, said his family in a tweet posted on Caan’s account. His manager, Matt DelPiano, confirmed the news to AFP.
Born in New York, in the Bronx district, in 1940, into a family of Jewish immigrants from Germany, James Caan had started his career with small roles in Hollywood in the 1960s, notably in “Irma La Douce ” by Billy Wilder (1963), or “The People of the Rain”, by Francis Ford Coppola (1969).
Three years later, the great American director will give him one of his most famous roles, in the first part of the trilogy “The Godfather”, epic saga on the Italian-American mafia which marked the history of cinema and celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.
James Caan plays Sonny Corleone, the eldest son of “don” Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), and his brutal assassination in a hail of bullets at a toll booth has become one of the film’s most defining moments. The role earned him an Oscar nomination.
“I keep thinking that if I had the change that day, I could have become much richer“, he had joked years later, in reference to his death at the toll while he waited for his change. “If I had known they were going to shoot ‘The Godfather 2’ (in which he had a small role for a flashback), I would have refused to die“, he had quipped, judging that this film had been a “blessing” for him.
“Jimmy was someone who was in my life longer and more closely than any other movie figure I’ve ever known.“, reacted Francis Ford Coppola, welcoming in a statement to AFP his “old friend” and “one of the funniest people i have ever known“.
“Jimmy was my fictional brother and lifelong friend. It’s hard to imagine that he is no longer of this world, he was so full of life and audacity“said Al Pacino, who played Michael Corleone, Sonny’s little brother.
Robert De Niro, who also starred in the “Godfather” saga, said to himself “very, very sad to hear of Jimmy’s passing.“.
As an echo of this role in “The Godfather”, James Caan had been summoned for the first time as a witness in 1985 at a mafia trial in New York, because he had known one of the defendants, a member of the Colombo family. , in his childhood. Then, he testified, still in New York, in 1992 in another trial, where he presented himself as the best friend of a reputable member of the Bonanno mafia family still in the dock.
After “The Godfather”, his career continued with roles in other films that have remained classics, such as “Rollerball” (1975), named after this violent sport practiced in a futuristic society, or “Le Solitaire” ( 1981) by Michael Mann.
One of his other great roles is offered to him in “Misery” (1990), a grueling camera, adapted from the novel by Stephen King. He masterfully embodies the writer Paul Sheldon, kidnapped in the mountains of Colorado by an evil fan played by Kathy Bates.
“His films were the best of the best“, paid tribute to him in a tweet the actor and New York screenwriter Adam Sandler. “I loved him so much. I always wanted to be like him. I am so happy to have known him. I never stopped laughing when I was with this man“, he added.
Prolific actor, who had acted in several dozen films over six decades, including “The Yards” by James Gray (2000), “City of Ghosts” by Matt Dillon (2002), or who had lent his voice in “Tempest of Meatballs giantess” (2009), James Caan had been married four times and had five children.