One of the main Godfather stars, James Caan, was an actor known for his television and film performances. Active for 61 years, during his career, he was nominated for an Academy Award, 4 Golden Globe Awards, and a Primetime Emmy Award. In 1978, he was also inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the motion pictures category.
We at Bright Side were crushed to find out that this acting legend left us at the age of 82 and decided to pay him a tribute by taking a peek inside his life.
A 6 decade career
Following, for him at the time, a familiar career trajectory, Caan’s first screen debut on television was when he appeared in one episode of Naked City in 1961. 3 years later, Caan managed to land his first substantial movie role in the thriller Lady in Cage, starring side by side with Olivia de Havilland.
Since this role set his career in motion, Caan continued to only accept roles in film and turned down roles for TV shows, saying, “I want to be an actor, not a millionaire.” However, in 1971, he got an offer (which he turned down 4 times) to play football player Brian Piccolo on the TV show Brian’s Song. After reading the script, Caan changed his mind and finally accepted the offer, and good thing he did, because it turned out to be a huge critical success, and he earned an Emmy nomination.
The following year was James’ big break — he landed the role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather — the role for which he’ll be remembered for years to come. For his performance in this blockbuster, he scored a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and for Caan, this opened doors for several diverse projects.
His career, however, was not always successful, and he experienced some downfalls too. Several film projects of his failed, receiving bad feedback both from the audience and critics. But Caan managed to rise again with several stellar performances, like in the movies Thief, Kiss Me Goodbye, and Gardens of Stone.
Throughout his career, James starred in over 100 movies and TV shows, but unfortunately, his selection of roles never brought him any awards.
James was married 4 times, but none of them were happily ever after.
Just like his career, Caan’s love life was full of ups and downs. He experienced marriage for the first time in 1961 when he was only 21. He married actress Dee Jay Mathis and had a daughter together, named Tara. 2 years after their daughter was born, the couple divorced.
10 years later, Caan decided to give marriage a second try and married Sheila Marie Ryan. But even though their marriage was short-lived — they divorced after only 1 year together — they welcomed their son, Scott Caan.
The third time’s a charm, they say, but apparently not for James. 13 years after his divorce to Sheila, Caan married Ingrid Hajek. In 1991, they welcomed their son Alexander James Caan into the world, but their union ended after spending only 4 years together.
A year later, Caan tied the knot with Linda Stokes, and they had 2 sons together, James Arthur Caan and Jacob Nicholas Caan. James’ marriage to Linda was the longest one of all his marriages. It lasted for more than 20 years, until he filed for divorce in 2017, citing irreconcilable differences as the reason.
When it comes to parenting, he believed it was important to learn from his parents’ mistakes.
James longed for his father’s affection and approval all his life. Unfortunately, he didn’t get it and swore to never make the same mistake with his children. He thinks it’s important that new generations should not carry over negative traits from their parents and that toxic masculinity should be a thing of the past.
In one interview, he spoke openly about the importance of being a loving and sensitive parent. “I never saw my dad cry. My son saw me cry. My dad never told me he loved me, and consequently, I told my son I loved him every other minute. The point is, I’ll make less mistakes than my dad, my sons hopefully will make less mistakes than me, and their sons will make less mistakes than their dads.”
Of all his 5 kids, he had the strongest bond with his son Scott.
In his life, James faced a few hardships — 4 divorces, “Hollywood burnout,” and depression over the loss of his sister from leukemia. That affected his relationship with his son Scott, but they always found ways to mend their bond. Scott sympathizes with his father and doesn’t hold any resentment toward him because he was a present father. “He made mistakes that affected him — and me — but he’s always been there for me no matter what.”
He loved acting, but his family was always his number one priority.
“No matter what heights you achieve in this business, what is inevitable in every single case is there is a slide backward. Those people who’ve put all their eggs in one basket where it’s everything, those are the people who hurt themselves. The best advice I give to young actors is what comes first is my family and my friends.”
He had some wisdom to share too.
- There’s a big difference between wanting to work and having to work. And I had to learn that the hard way. Now, money is very important to me, because I ain’t got it.
- You have to be very careful when you let someone win.
- You’re the only one who’s closing your eyes at night. There’s no one else who can do it for you.
- There are a lot of guys in Hollywood who clap you on the back just a little too hard.
- Showing up every day isn’t enough. There are a lot of guys who show up every day who shouldn’t have shown up at all.
- People wonder why first-time directors can make a brilliant picture, then suck on the second one. It’s because they’re a little terrified the first time. So they listen to all the experts around them.
Which of Caan’s movies is your favorite? What will you remember him for?