James Caan Biography

Television Actor, Theater Actor, Film Actor, Actor (1940–)
Actor James Caan's career highlights include an Oscar-nominated performance as Sonny Corleone in 'The Godfather' and a well-received turn as a writer held hostage in Stephen King’s 'Misery.'


Actor James Caan was born on March 26, 1940, in the Bronx, New York. Caan began his film career in 1963's Irma la Douce. He landed the lead role in The Rain People (1969) and later gave an Oscar-nominated performance in The Godfather (1972). After a hiatus from filming, Caan made a comeback in 1987's Gardens of Stone, and delivered a strong turn in Misery (1990). The following decade, he enjoyed an extended run on the TV series Las Vegas.

Early Life

Actor James Caan was born on March 26, 1940, in the Bronx, New York. Caan briefly attended Michigan State University before transferring to New York's Hofstra University, where he majored in theater. Upon his graduation, he studied under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse.

Early Career

In 1960, Caan made his stage debut in La Ronde. The following year, he appeared on Broadway in the production of Blood, Sweat, and Stanley Poole.

Caan began his film career with an unbilled part in 1963's Irma la Douce (starring Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon), followed by a more substantial role in the psychological thriller Lady in a Cage (1964). He headlined the westerns The Glory Guys (1965), El Dorado (1967) and Journey to Shiloh (1968), before landing the lead role in the 1969 drama The Rain People -- one of the first projects by director Francis Ford Coppola.

Caan gave a sensitive performance as ailing football player Brian Piccolo in the heart-wrenching TV biopic Brian's Song (1971). Then, alongside an ensemble cast that included Al Pacino and Marlon Brando, he delivered an Oscar-nominated performance in Coppola's enduring epic The Godfather (1972). Considered by many to be the crowning achievement of his career, Caan's portrayal of the irascible Sonny Corleone confirmed his status as one of the most talented actors of his generation.

After starring as a sailor in Cinderella Liberty (1973) and in the title role of Karel Reisz's The Gambler (1974), Caan made a fleeting appearance in The Godfather Part II (1974). The next year, he exhibited his singing voice as impresario Billy Rose opposite Barbra Streisand's Fanny Brice in Funny Lady, and headlined the dystopian sports thriller Rollerball.

A number of box office disasters followed, including The Killer Elite (1975) and Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976). Caan made a lackluster directorial debut with Hide in Plain Sight (1980) and starred opposite Sally Field in the critically panned romance Kiss Me Goodbye (1982). These poor choices, coupled with his rejection of roles in the now-classic features One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), hindered the actor's career.


After a five-year hiatus from film work, Caan made an improbable comeback in features with Coppola's war drama Gardens of Stone (1987) and the sci-fi thriller Alien Nation (1988). With a memorable role in the acclaimed 1990 film version of Stephen King's best-seller Misery, he starred as a tormented romance writer held captive by a deranged fan (played by Kathy Bates). The following year, Caan had middling success with his part as a USO performer opposite Bette Midler in the musical saga For the Boys.

Other credits from the decade include Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), with Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker, the controversial sports drama The Program (1993), with Halle Berry, and big-budget action films like Eraser (1996), with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Caan continued to fare well in the coming-of-age independent film Bottle Rocket (1996) and the dark comedy Mickey Blue Eyes (1999).

In 2000, Caan demonstrated his resilience and vitality by appearing with a new generation of Hollywood up-and-comers in the modern-day western The Way of the Gun (with Juliette Lewis, Ryan Phillippe and Benicio del Toro) and The Yards (with Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix and Charlize Theron). He starred with Brian Dennehy in the TV movie Warden of Red Rock (2001) and completed production on the thriller City of Ghosts (2002), which marked the directorial debut of actor Matt Dillon.

In 2003, Caan appeared in the Will Ferrell comedy Elf, and began a four-year run as Ed Deline on the TV series Las Vegas. The veteran actor has since remained busy with his contributions to such films as That's My Boy (2012) and Sicilian Vampire (2015), as well as the short-lived sitcom Back in the Game

Personal Life

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Caan's personal life was surrounded by controversy. Following widespread rumors of drug abuse, he was arrested three times -- twice for assault and once for allegedly threatening rapper Derek Lee with a gun.

Caan has been married four times: to dancer DeeJay Mathis; to model Sheila Ryan; to pastry chef Ingrid Hayjek; and most recently to Linda Stokes, whom he divorced in 2009. He has one daughter and four sons; his oldest son, Scott Caan, has also become a successful actor.

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