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Queens residents remember late actor James Caan

Queens remembers late actor and Sunnyside resident James Caan
James Caan, whose roles included “The Godfather,” “Brian’s Song” and “Misery,” died Wednesday, July 6, 2022, at age 82. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

James Caan, the actor best known for his roles in “The Godfather” and “Elf,” died at the age of 82 on the evening of July 6.

Caan was born on March 26, 1940, in the Bronx to Sophie and Arthur Caan, Jewish immigrants from Germany. They settled in Sunnyside, where Caan would grow up. The actor has previously said that Sunnyside shaped him into the rough and rugged actor he was known to be in most of his roles.

Locals took to Twitter to remember their neighbor fondly. One wrote, “Hope him and my dad are tossing a football around up in heaven like they did when they were growing up in Sunnyside.”

Queens always appreciated the iconic actor, even hosting a Caan Film Festival at the Museum of the Moving Image in 2017. The film curator at the Museum of the Moving Image, Eric Hynes, said that Caan lent “incomparable magnetism” in all his roles. 

“With his broad-shouldered athleticism and a granite-cut jaw, Caan brings a frank physicality to the screen, making even mild-mannered performances seem subtly threatening,” Hynes said. “Yet he also freights a deep reserve of emotion, exemplifying a post-war American masculinity that is reinventing itself one mission, one conflict, one heartbreak at a time.“

Councilwoman Julie Won took to Twitter to acknowledge the death of the iconic actor from her district.

“Today we mourn the loss of James Caan — a Sunnysider and global icon. Rest easy,” Won wrote.

According to the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Caan was a student at Hofstra University, where he developed his interest in acting.

Caan appeared off-Broadway at Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse before his career took off in the 1960s. He appeared in the 1962 romantic comedy “Irma La Douce” and earned roles in hit TV series at the time. After his role as a football player who has cancer in “Brian’s Song,” Caan was cast in “The Godfather,” earning him an Oscar nomination.

Caan’s identity from “The Godfather” stuck with him, once saying, “They called me wiseguy. I won Italian of the Year twice in New York, and I’m Jewish, not Italian.”

On growing up in Sunnyside, Caan said, “I really believe that you grow up a certain way in New York. There’s a New York morality, a sense of loyalty. You know how to win and lose. There are a thousand kids outside; you know who to push and who not to push. There’s a sixth sense you develop just because it’s New York.”

After a lull in his career in the 1980s, Caan went on to star in well-known movies like “Misery,” “Get Smart” and “Elf.” Just a year ago, Caan told CBS he wanted to do “a good piece of work.”

“I can’t take it easy,” Caan said in 2021. “To me, I enjoy working. I love to work with good people. I have more fun when I’m working, and I have a lot of laughs.”

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