‘Godfather’ Legend James Caan Refused to ‘Take It Easy’ Right Until the End

·5 min read
Hutton Supancic//Getty Images for SXSW
Hutton Supancic//Getty Images for SXSW

Prolific film actor James Caan, the Godfather star whose career went off the rails in the 1980s before being resuscitated in later years, died Wednesday evening, according to a tweet from his family posted to his verified Twitter account.

A cause of death was not immediately released. He was 82.

“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6,” the tweet said. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”

The Bronx native, who played Sonny Corleone in The Godfather and featured in a slew of other beloved films like Brian’s Song, Elf and Misery, told ABC just last year he was still excited to be working at 81.

“I can’t take it easy,” he said last July. “I enjoy working. I love to work with good people. I have more fun when I’m working, because I get to know new people, and mostly good people, you know?”

The son of a kosher butcher, Caan ditched the meat trade for Hollywood in the early 70s. After his breakout role in The Godfather, he became a star that defined a generation into the early 80s before he abruptly dropped acting for what he described as a “pretty scary period.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Caan shot to fame as Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather.”</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">CBS Photo Archive via Getty</div>

Caan shot to fame as Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather.”

CBS Photo Archive via Getty

Caan told The New York Times in 1991 that the period included two bitter divorces, “poor” career moves, depression, cocaine abuse, financial issues and the loss of his much-loved sister, which took him out of the limelight for almost a decade.

He rebounded in the 90s, however, despite never ascending to the perch of Hollywood he once occupied.

In his later years, Caan was a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump—reversing his personal policy of staying out of politics.

“I was never politically oriented—in fact I called myself a radical middle-of-the-roader,” he told the Jerusalem Post in 2016.

But, as the actor grew in age, he became more critical of “liberal Hollywood” and Democrats running for office, namely Hillary Clinton.

“That pisses me off when they talk about all these Hollywood liberals,” Caan told the Post. “There’s a whole bunch of us who are conservative. I find it offensive when actors go on news shows and spout their political views. They don’t exactly have political science degrees, who cares what they think?”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Caan and his son James Caan Jr. (left) attend a 50th anniversary celebration for “The Godfather” in February 2022.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Axelle/Bauer-Griffin</div>

Caan and his son James Caan Jr. (left) attend a 50th anniversary celebration for “The Godfather” in February 2022.

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin

Perhaps most known for his role as mob-man Sonny Corleone, Caan dabbled with real-world mafiosos, too.

When “Andy Mush” Russo was arrested in 2011—along with 125 other alleged mafiosos around New York City—Caan publicly defended Russo and offered to pay his bail.

This wasn’t the only relationship between the two, however. Russo was also the godfather of Caan’s son, Scott, Gothamist reported. That’s right, the godfather.

In a note written to the court, Cann said, “Our two families are intertwined. My son Scott is his godson. [Russo] has always been the first to call when any member of my family has been ill or troubled, and always looked after me like a brother.”

It wasn’t the first time Cann supported an arrested mafioso in court. Two decades prior, in 1992, he testified in Los Angeles that his closest friend—a man arrested on organized crime and cocaine trafficking charges—was, “to his knowledge,” a law-abiding citizen.

Caan admitted to lending the arrested man, Ronald A. Lorenzo, thousands of dollars during the course of their friendship, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. He also posted Lorenzo’s federal bail of $500,000 by pledging his Bel-Air home to authorities.

‘The Godfather’ Is Still Making Us an Offer We Can’t Refuse

As news of Caan’s death spread Thursday afternoon, there was an outpouring of love from former associates and co-stars.

“Jimmy was one of the greatest. Not only was he one of the best actors our business has ever seen, he was funny, loyal, caring and beloved,” Caan’s manager Matt DelPiano said in a statement.

Adam Sandler, who performed alongside Caan in Bulletproof and That’s My Boy, tweeted that he “loved him very much” and “always wanted to be like him.”

“So happy I got to know him,” Sandler wrote. “Never ever stopped laughing when I was around that man. His movies were best of the best.”

IMDB says Caan has 115 credits as an actor, with his latest roles—Acre Beyond the Rye, Redemption, Fast Charlie—yet to air.

Another co-star, Josh Duhamel of the early 2000s TV series Las Vegas, fought back tears in a video posted to his Instagram story on Thursday as he told Caan he loved him.

“I just want to take a minute to remember Jimmy Caan: One of the kindest, coolest, funniest people I’ve ever met, one of my mentors,” Duhamel said. “And you’ll be missed, Jimmy Caan. I love you.”

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