How did James Caan die? Legendary 'Godfather' actor, 82, was Francis Ford Coppola's classmate

James Caan first found fame when he played Chicago Bears halfback Brian Piccolo in 'Brian's Song', a popular TV movie of 1971


                            How did James Caan die? Legendary 'Godfather' actor, 82, was Francis Ford Coppola's classmate
James Caan was also known for his roles in films like 'Thief', 'Rollerball' and 'Misery' (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
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Legendary 'Godfather' actor James Caan died on July 6 aged 82. His family took to his verified Twitter account to announce his death. "It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6," his family wrote. "The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time."

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A cause of death has not been revealed. 'The Godfather' director Francis Ford Coppola gave his condolences to the actor in an exclusive statement to Deadline. “Jimmy was someone who stretched through my life longer and closer than any motion picture figure I’ve ever known,” Coppola said. “From those earlier times working together on The Rain People, and throughout all the milestones of my life, his films and the many great roles he played will never be forgotten. He will always be my old friend from Sunnyside, my collaborator and one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.”

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James Caan's life and career

Caan first found fame when he played Chicago Bears halfback Brian Piccolo in 'Brian's Song', a popular TV movie of 1971. His next film, 'The Godfather,' is what made him a star. Caan was cast as Sonny Corleone, oldest of mobster Vito Corleone's three sons. The role earned him an Oscar nomination, and he subsequently appeared in a flashback in 'The Godfather, Part II'. Caan is also known for his roles in films like 'Thief', 'Rollerball' and 'Misery'. To younger audiences, he is best known for his role in the 2003 film 'Elf', a Christmas tale, in which he played Will Ferrell's Scrooge-like father. 

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Besides being nominated for the Oscar, Caan has also been nominated for the Golden Globe Award for 'The Glory Guys'. He was also nominated for an Emmy Award for 'Brian's Song', an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for 'The Godfather'. He was also nominated for Golden Globe Awards for his roles in 'The Gambler' and 'Funny Lady'. At the time of his death, Caan had a net worth of $20 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth

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James Caan on the set of the film 'Rollerball', in which he played the hero Jonathan E., UK, August 1974 (Photo by John Downing/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Caan was born in the Bronx borough of New York City to Jewish immigrants in 1940, with his father being a butcher. He played football at Michigan State before starting to study acting as a student at Hofstra University. One of his classmates here was Francis Ford Coppola. Caan was a practicing martial artist who trained with Takayuki Kubota for nearly 30 years. He was a Master (6 Dan) of Gosoku Ryu Karate and was granted the title of Soke Dai by the International Karate Association. He also participated in steer roping at rodeos and called himself the "only Jewish cowboy from New York on the professional rodeo cowboy circuit."

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Caan had been married four times. His ex-wives were Dee Jay Mathis, Sheila Caan, Ingrid Jajek and Linda Stokes. His five children are Scott Caan, James Arthur Caan, Tara A. Caan, Jacob Nicholas Caan and Alexander James Caan. 

Actor James Caan arrives at the Planet Dailies And Mixology 101 Grand Opening held at Planet Dailies & Mixology 101 on April 5, 2012 in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Mixology 101)

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Caan's other well-known movies include Howard Hawks's Western 'El Dorado', James Toback's 'The Gambler' and Richard Attenborough's 1977 epic 'A Bridge Too Far'. Caan appeared on TV in the drama 'Las Vegas' and he rebooted 'Hawaii Five-0' series later in his career. 

James Caan's cocaine addiction

The actor's life has not been one without controversy as Caan was arrested in March 1994 for allegedly pulling a gun on rapper Derek Lee during an argument. He struggled with cocaine addiction after his sister's death and had to go to rehab in 1994. Caan explained how he took cocaine and battled depression between 1982 and 1987 in an interview with the New York Times in 1991. When discussing the incident with Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz in July 2021, he recalled: “I went through a rough patch with cocaine.

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Actor James Caan attends the 41st Annual Chaplin Award Gala at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on April 28, 2014 in New York City (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

'Rest in peace, Jimmy'

Tributes and condolences poured in on social media soon after the news of Caan's death surfaced. "I'm utterly devastated to hear that the incredible actor James Caan has passed away. I'll always remember him as Walter Hobbes from the classic Christmas movie "Elf". It'll be poignant when I rewatch it again during the holidays this year. Thank you, James. We will miss you," one user wrote on Twitter. "A GREAT MAN, AND A GREAT LIFE!!! Rest in Peace, James Caan," another user said. One user wrote, "I'm sad to hear that James Caan passed away yesterday at the age of 82. He was such a great actor in some classic films like Countdown, The Godfather, Misery, Elf, and even animated films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. I'll miss him."

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"R.I.P James Caan. A man who crafted one of my absolute favorite film roles. Frank in Thief just isn’t some good acting job, nah it’s a living statement of the conflict of the laborer in our society. This scene shows it all," one user wrote, sharing a clip. "Rest In Peace James Caan (1940-2022) A brilliant actor who will forever be remembered in his amazing performances of characters such as Santino Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece The Godfather and as Axel Freed in The Gambler," one user wrote, while another said, "Sad to hear of the death of the great actor James Caan. I think my favorite roles he played were as Brian Picollo in "Brian's Song", Sonny Corleone in "The Godfather", and as the main characters in "Thief" and "The Gambler". Rest in peace, Jimmy."

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