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James Caan, Hollywood Icon Who Was Raised in Sunnyside, Dies Aged 82

James Caan in 1976 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

July 7, 2022 By Christian Murray

James Caan, a Hollywood icon who was raised in Sunnyside, died Wednesday at the age of 82.

Caan was born in the Bronx on March 26, 1940 and grew up in Sunnyside. He was the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany whose father was in the kosher meat business.

In 2006, Caan told the publication Cigar Aficionado that Sunnyside shaped who he was in adult life.

He said he and his two siblings—brother, Ronnie, and sister Barbara—learned life skills in what was a working-class neighborhood. The neighborhood at the time consisted of Italian, Irish and Jewish families.

“There were great lessons to be learned, you know, when I was a kid. You develop a sixth sense [because] you meet so many kids that you learn how to win, and you learn how to lose very quickly.

“You get this sixth sense [where] after a while I’d shake someone’s hand and say hello and I could tell you if this person was, you know, someone I was going to like or be a friend of or whatever. It becomes just like the jungle,” Caan said, “and you can smell it.”

His Sunnyside roots were acknowledged by Councilmember Julie Won, who represents the district and lives in the neighborhood.

Caan, whose rugged look and tough-guy disposition, saw him appear in many masculine roles over the course of his career including films such as “Rollerball,” Gardens of Stone” and the “Godfather.”

He started his career acting in off-Broadway plays before making a transition to TV and then film.

He appeared in over 80 movies in a career spanning six decades, including “Elf,” “Brian’s Song,” “El Dorado” and “Misery”.

James Caan, Cannes 2000 (Photo: Courtesy of H Caulfield CC BY-SA 3.0)

Caan is best known for playing Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather.”

His children announced that he had died, making an official statement on Twitter.

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

The family did not disclose the cause of death.

Caan leaves behind five children, including actor Scott Caan, 45; James Arthur Caan, 26; Tara A. Caan, 57; Jacob Nicholas Caan, 23; and Alexander James Caan, 31.

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Larry Penner

We will always remember James Cann as Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather.” But many of us including myself, also remember his role in the 1996 movie “Eraser”. We laughed when he said “Get me a wet nap.” Wash’n Dri didn’t want to ante up and pay for product placement. “The Godfather” would have made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

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