‘The Godfather’: James Caan’s Corleone family pays tribute to ‘wildly gifted’ co-star

A black and white image of three men in tuxedos and a fourth man in uniform
Al Pacino, left, Marlon Brando, James Caan and John Cazale appear as Michael, Vito, Sonny and Fredo Corleone in Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather: The Complete Novel for Television.”

“The Godfather” family on Thursday paid tribute to fallen son James Caan, who played violent enforcer Sonny Corleone in the iconic 1972 film.

The movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won three, including for best picture and lead actor for Marlon Brando’s turn as Mafia boss Vito Corleone, at a ceremony remembered for Brando’s refusal to accept his award.

Caan, who died Wednesday at age 82, earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting role as the eldest son (with a “temper like his father”) in Francis Ford Coppola’s film but ultimately lost to “Cabaret’s” Joel Grey. But Caan was in good company, nominated alongside his “Godfather” co-stars Al Pacino and Robert Duvall in the supporting actor category.


“When it comes to the action, I’m as good as anybody, and don’t forget it,” Caan’s Sonny famously said.

James Caan, who was Oscar-nominated for his portrayal of hot-tempered Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather,” died Wednesday night, his family announced.

July 7, 2022

Of course, the executioner — who eventually (and briefly) became the head of the Corleone family — eventually met his own demise in what was at the time one of cinema’s most brutal death scenes. Sonny was viciously gunned down by a rival mob family at a toll plaza during an impulsive attempt to save his sister Connie.

Here’s a look at what some “Godfather” saga cast and crew members had to say about him:

Francis Ford Coppola, director and producer

Three men in tuxedos stand onstage
Al Pacino, left, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert De Niro at the 2022 Oscars.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)

“Jimmy was someone who stretched through my life longer and closer than any motion picture figure I’ve ever known. From those earlier times working together on ‘The Rain People’ and throughout all the milestones of my life, his films and the many great roles he played will never be forgotten. He will always be my old friend from Sunnyside, my collaborator and one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.”


Talia Shire, Connie Corleone

A woman arrives at a red-carpet event
Talia Shire at an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of “The Godfather.”
(John Salangsang / Invision / Associated Press)

“James was a good man, a kind man, a family man, and a wildly gifted man — whose great talent will always be loved and remembered. My prayers are with his family that he treasured so dearly.”

Al Pacino, Michael Corleone

Two men having a conversation
Al Pacino, left, and James Caan have a conversation in a scene from “The Godfather.”
(Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

“Jimmy was my fictional brother and my lifelong friend. It’s hard to believe that he won’t be in the world anymore because he was so alive and daring.

“A great actor, a brilliant director and my dear friend. I loved him, gonna miss him.”

Robert De Niro, young Vito Corleone

An older man poses for a portrait
“The Godfather: Part II” actor Robert De Niro poses for a portrait at the 92nd Academy Awards nominees luncheon at the Loews Hotel in Los Angeles on Jan. 27, 2020.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)

“I’m very very sad to hear about Jimmy’s passing.”