Actor James Caan, Star Of ‘Godfather,’ ‘Elf,’ Dies At 82
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 22: Actor James Caan attends Humane Society of The United States' annual To The Rescue! Los Angeles benefit at Paramount Studios on April 22, 2017 in Hollywood, California.
Jason LaVeris / FilmMagic

James Caan, the Oscar-nominated actor whose roles ranged from Mafia scion Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather” to the brooding father of an overgrown imp in the Christmas classic “Elf,” has died at 82.

Caan, whose Hollywood career began in 1964 with a small role in “Lady in a Cage,” and acted as recently as last year in the romantic comedy “Queen Bees,” died Wednesday evening, according to family.

“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6,” a statement said that was posted to Caan’s Twitter account. “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-born actor often played tough guys, and in 1971 scored a key role as terminally ill football star Brian Piccolo in the television film “Brian’s Song.” Billy Dee Williams starred opposite Caan as NFL immortal Gale Sayers. The critically acclaimed performance led to his most famous role a year later, as Don Corleone’s wild son and brother of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone.

In an interview with Variety marking the 50-year anniversary of director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 classic, Caan disclosed that he had auditioned for the role that made Pacino a Tinseltown superstar.

“Yeah, I had a number of auditions for different parts,” he said. “I wanted to play Sonny, because that’s what Francis wanted. But he called me one night from New York and said, “Jimmy the studio wants you to come here and test.” I said, “test what? You got a Porsche you want me to drive around the block?” And Francis told me they wanted me to play Michael. So I went to New York and read for the role and then they had Al [Pacino] come in and test and he was a little self-destructive. They warned him, don’t do that again or you’re fired. But Francis got what he wanted in the end. He always does.”

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