Actor James Caan, best known for his role as a hot-tempered mobster in the 1972 film "The Godfather," was questioned by Los Angeles police Saturday as a witness to what authorities described as a possible murder.
The victim, identified only as a young white man, was found dead early Saturday in the courtyard of an upscale, high-rise apartment on the Westside.
Witnesses speculated that the victim may have been shot in the head or fallen to his death. An autopsy was scheduled.
Police investigators said the victim "may have been associated" with a tenant on the eighth floor of the apartment building on the 10000 block of Wilshire Boulevard. Police said it was Caan's connection with the eighth-floor tenant that prompted them to question the actor at length.
They would not identify the tenant or provide any additional details.
Another tenant who lives on the sixth floor told The Times that he was awakened about 4 a.m. by a loud thud.
"It hit my bloody balcony," he said of the victim's body. The tenant, who declined to give his name, added that he was able to view the body Saturday morning as it lay in the courtyard and "it had a hole right here," pointing to his forehead. He estimated the victim to be in his 20s.
Caan, who could not be reached for comment, was driven home by officers about 5:30 p.m. after several hours of questioning by detectives at the LAPD's West Los Angeles station. An unidentified woman at Caan's fashionable, red-brick residence in Bel-Air referred reporters to a spokesman at the entertainment public relations firm of Rogers & Cowan. The publicist did not return a telephone call left by The Times.
"Mr. Caan has been interviewed as a witness and has been released," said Capt. William Gartland, commander of the Los Angeles Police Department's robbery-homicide division. "The investigation into the death . . . is continuing."
Caan, 54, has been questioned by authorities in other criminal matters.
In 1992, Caan testified as a character witness for an alleged organized crime figure, Ronald A. Lorenzo, whom Caan described as "my best friend."
Lorenzo was on trial at the time in U.S. District Court for alleged cocaine trafficking as well as a string of robberies and kidnapings of affluent San Fernando Valley residents. He was convicted in February on five counts of drug conspiracy charges and is awaiting sentencing.
"He is my best friend and I love him," Caan said last year. Caan gave a similar account in 1985, when he appeared in New York at another much-publicized trial to show his support for two other men with alleged mob ties--going so far as to publicly kiss one of them, Carmine Persico, on the cheek.
A native New Yorker, Caan achieved stardom with his performance as the cancer-stricken football player Brian Piccolo in the 1970 TV movie "Brian's Song." Two years later, his depiction of Mafioso Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" won Caan an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor.
His role as the hot-tempered Sonny so impressed reputed gangsters in New York, according to federal documents, that some allegedly attempted to exert their muscle to ensure that Caan star in a film about underworld financial genius Meyer Lansky.
After movies including "Freebie and the Bean," "Comes a Horseman" and "Thief," Caan virtually retired from Hollywood from 1982 to 1986, accepting no film roles while overcoming what he later described to interviewers as a cocaine problem. He has since rebounded as an actor, drawing praise from critics for his performances in such films as "Misery" and "Honeymoon in Vegas."
Caan plays a football coach in his most recent film, "The Program," which is to open this week.