American actor James Caan at the Western Wall, July 19, 2016. (Flash90) (Flash90)
James Caan

Related:

Famous actor James Caan openly professed his love for the Jewish state, touring towns in Judea and Samaria during a 2016 visit to Israel.

By Pesach Benson, United with Israel

James Caan, the Jewish Hollywood star and supporter of Israel died on Wednesday at the age of 82. He is best remembered for playing a mafia prince in the critically acclaimed 1972 movie, “The Godfather.”

No cause of death was disclosed, and Caan’s family, requesting privacy, said that no further details would be released at this time.

Caan’s love of Israel came to the fore during a 2016 visit as a guest of Hebrew University and the Albert Einstein Foundation.

He was especially emotional when he visited a memorial in Gush Etziyon to three teens kidnapped and killed by Hamas in June 2014 — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach. Their abduction triggered Operation Protective Edge, a six-week war in Gaza.

Caan said he was “amazed by the beauty and uniqueness of Gush Etzion, the resilience of the people who live here and I express my full support for all who live in the land of Israel.”

He also urged Israel not to return to its pre-1967 lines.

“The European and American demands to return to the 1967 borders — aren’t sensible, and I object strongly to those demands,” he said at the time.

Caan was also asked by The Media Line if any entertainers tried to convince him to cancel his visit.

“They would have gotten punched in the face,” Caan replied. “No, I don’t hang around with antisemites if that’s what you mean and I don’t know any. And if I did, I’d punch them in the face.”

Asked why it took so long for Caan to visit Israel, he explained, “I’ve always wanted to go to Israel and was never given the opportunity. I was too busy having children all the time. Getting married and having children. Now, I took my 20-year-old son, and I thought it would be good for him to see as well as myself.”

Storied Career

Born March 26, 1939, in New York City, James Edmund Caan was the son of German Jewish immigrants. His father was a kosher butcher, and while James often helped him out, did not want to follow in his footsteps.

“I just fell in love with acting”, Caan told the New York Times in 2004.

He was a star athlete and class president at Rhodes High School and, after attending Michigan State and Hofstra University, he studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater under Sanford Meisner. It was at Hofstra where he first met Francis Ford Coppola, then a fellow undergraduate who would later direct “The Godfather.”

Caan began appearing on Broadway and TV in the late 1960s. He made his breakthrough performance in the 1971 TV movie, “Brian’s Song,” playing Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo, who had died of cancer the year before. Caan was nominated for an Emmy and critics have called “Brian’s Song” one of best TV movies of all time.

He followed up that success a year later with his signature role playing mafioso Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather,” for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

“I won Italian of the Year twice in New York, and I’m Jewish, not Italian,” Caan told Vanity Fair in 2009.

In a career spanning a half-century, Caan appeared in some 80 films.

Caan is survived by five children.

Associated Press contributed to this report.