James Caan, Jewish movie star known for his tough roles, dead at 82 – J.

In 2009, James Caan, one of the main movie stars of the 1970s, told Vanity Fair that he had twice been honored as “Italian of the Year” in New York. Kicker: He’s not Italian.

Caan, who died Wednesday at 82, according to a post from his family on his Twitter account, has staked rare ground in Hollywood as a Jew known for his badass roles — and for being almost always seen as anything but Jewish.

Italian reputation dogged him after what was arguably his most famous role, as mafioso Sonny Corleone in ‘The Godfather’, which he briefly reprized in ‘The Godfather Part II’. (In that same Vanity Fair profile, Caan said people often approach him in public to see if he’s as short-tempered as his Corleone character.)

One of his earliest roles, in Howard Hawks’ 1966 classic western “El Dorado,” also gave him a lifelong cowboy nickname. Caan said in an interview earlier this year that he worked as a professional rodeo entertainer for years before he shot to fame, and that disgraced Jewish casino mogul Steve Wynn used to introduce people to him. of Las Vegas as “the best Jewish cowboy”. had never met.

Born in the Bronx, Caan was raised by working-class German Jewish immigrants in Sunnyside, Queens, where he said he developed some of his badass mojo. His father was a kosher butcher, and while he worked for him on several occasions, Caan sought to avoid the meat trade.

He played football for two years at Michigan State University, where he was a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Jewish fraternity. He transferred to Hofstra University on Long Island, where he befriended his undergraduate colleague Francis Ford Coppola.

Some of Caan’s other notable performances include a football player diagnosed with cancer in “Brian’s Song” (1971); a sailor who falls in love with a prostitute in “Cinderella Liberty” (1973); a professor with a gambling addiction in “The Gambler” (1974); and the protagonist of “Misery” (1990), a famous adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. He also played Barbra Streisand’s love interest in “Funny Lady” (1975), a sequel to Fanny Brice’s story in “Funny Girl”.

A later career high point came in 2003, as a supporting character in Will Ferrell’s Christmas-themed hit “Elf.”

In 2017, at age 77, Caan starred in “Holy Lands” as a Jewish doctor who moves from New York to Israel, where he starts a pig farm in Nazareth. The real Caan had visited Israel in 2016 and reportedly said when asked by The Media Line that no one had ever questioned his support for Israel.

“I don’t hang out with anti-Semites if that’s what you mean, and I don’t know any of them,” he said, “and if I did, I’d punch them in the face.”

In his 2021 memoir “Yearbook,” Seth Rogen calls Caan “a scary Jew, which is almost unheard of.”

“He is in his own way, wise Jew,” Rogen wrote.

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