Hollywood Legend James Caan, ‘The Jewish Cowboy,’ Dead at Age of 82
The veteran Hollywood star James Caan, often referred to as the “Jewish cowboy,” passed away on Wednesday night at the age of 82, his family announced.
Known for his tough-guy roles on screen, Caan famously played the volatile mob boss Sonny Corleone in the first installment of Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy “The Godfather” in 1972, for which he received an Oscar nomination. Other Hollywood stars who appeared in the movie alongside Caan included Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and Marlon Brando in the title role.
Caan’s uncompromising image was similarly enhanced in movies like “Rollerball” (1975) and “Thief” (1981). However, Caan also showed himself to be a versatile actor in terms of the characters he portrayed, winning critical praise for his depiction of a beleaguered novelist alongside Kathy Bates in the 1990 movie “Misery.”
Born in New York City’s Bronx borough into a family of German Jewish immigrants, Caan’s father, Arthur, was a butcher and meat dealer. The actor grew up in the Sunnyside section of Queens among a mix of Irish, Jewish and Italian families. He later attended Michigan State University, where he played football, and Hofstra University.
Caan earned the moniker “The Jewish Cowboy” after he played Alan “Mississippi” Bourdillon Traherne in the 1967 western “El Dorado.”
“I rodeoed professionally for nine years,” Caan recalled in a March 2022 interview with the Bright Lights Film website. “As a matter of fact, I started in Las Vegas. All the cowboys used to come there. Steve Wynn [entrepreneur] used to come around on his little paint horse at the roping arena. To this day he still introduces me as ‘The Best Jewish Cowboy’ he’s ever met.”
Caan’s family did not specify a cause of death when they announced his passing on Thursday.
“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6,” the family’s statement read. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”