James Caan, a terrific actor who was active on screen for over 60 years, has passed away. This news was confirmed earlier today by his family.
Caan is perhaps best known for his performance in the 1972 hit The Godfather, a film often credited as one of the greatest of all time. In the movie, Caan portrayed the hothead Sonny Corleone, eldest son of the namesake mafia don and oft-catalyst of the story. Caan was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film, alongside fellow Godfather supporting actors Robert Duvall and Al Pacino.
Earlier in Caan’s career, he portrayed Brian Piccolo in the ABC movie Brian’s Song, a breakout role which earned him an Emmy nomination. Piccolo, an early teammate of Chicago Bears’ Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers, signed on with the Bears as an undrafted free agent in 1965, the same year Sayers was drafted in the first round. Working his way from special teams contributor to reserve running back, Piccolo found playing time in 1968 when Sayers was out with a knee injury.
Brian’s Song, the movie in which Caan starred as Piccolo, tells the story of Sayers’ recovery from that knee injury, with physical and emotional help from his teammates in Chicago. The film then continues to tell the story of Piccolo’s health decline, and diagnosis with embryonal cell carcinoma, a form of testicular cancer. Brian Piccolo died June 16, 1970, and Caan’s performance of him in the 1972 film left a lasting mark on Bears’ fans everywhere.
Other notable film credits of Caan’s include The Gambler (1974), Funny Lady (1975), Rollerball (1975), Misery (1990), Elf (2003), and plenty of guest cameos on television.
Billy Dee Williams, who portrayed Gale Sayers in Brian’s Song, took to Twitter earlier today to share a nice message: “Team Mates and friends till the end. RIP Jimmy.”
Caan was 82 years old.