James Caan Dies: Al Pacino and Robert De Niro Remember Their ‘Godfather’ Costar

by Caitlin Berard

Earlier today, Hollywood and the world at large were heartbroken to learn that beloved Godfather star James Caan had died. The Oscar-nominated actor was 82 years old at the time of his death and lived a long and successful life. For those we admire most, however, it’s never quite long enough.

In 1972, James Caan earned the role of Sonny Corleone, the temperamental son of mafia boss Vito Corleone, played by the legendary Marlon Brando. Those two names alone make for an incredible cast list, but they’re far from the only Hollywood icons in the Godfather franchise.

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro played integral roles in the film as well, Pacino playing Caan’s on-screen brother and eventual mafia boss Michael Corleone, and Robert De Niro playing a young Vito in Godfather II.

The blood relation between Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and James Caan didn’t stretch beyond the reaches of fiction. However, the three men became close during the filming process and remained friends until Caan’s tragic death. In statements given to Deadline, both Pacino and De Niro expressed their grief at the loss of their friend and co-star.

“Jimmy was my fictional brother and my lifelong friend,” Pacino said. “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’m gonna miss him.”

In his characteristically brief statement, Robert De Niro said, “I’m very very sad to hear about Jimmy’s passing.”

‘The Godfather’ Director Francis Ford Coppola Mourns the Loss of James Caan

Along with his Godfather co-stars, director Francis Ford Coppola felt the unfathomable loss of James Caan as well. In addition to his work with Caan in his directorial masterpiece, The Godfather, he also directed Cann in the 1969 drama The Rain People.

Though James Caan was still a budding actor at the time, Coppola recognized his potential. And it was perhaps this role that led to his unforgettable performance as Sonny in The Godfather three years later. Like the stars of the film, Caan and Coppola remained close friends for the rest of the actor’s life.

“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,” Coppola told Deadline. “He will always be my old friend from Sunnyside, my collaborator, and one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.”