James Caan, who played Brian Piccolo in Brian’s Song, dies at 82

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Actor James Caan, whose early-career role includes playing Bears running back Brian Piccolo in Brian’s Song, has died. He was 82.

Caan is best known for playing Santino “Sonny” Corleone in The Godfather. For football fans, however, he’ll always be Brian Piccolo. The close friend of Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, Piccolo died of cancer at 26 in 1970.

Caan also starred in Rollerball, a film in which the dominant worldwide sport is a violent, bloody combination of roller derby and hand-to-hand battlefield combat.

The younger folks in the audience will recognize Caan as the biological father of Will Ferrell in Elf, and as Coach Sam Winters in The Program.

Caan received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor award based on his role in The Godfather, and an Emmy nomination for best lead actor in a movie or miniseries for Brian’s Song.

22 responses to “James Caan, who played Brian Piccolo in Brian’s Song, dies at 82

  1. Sad news that was a fantastic movie he was a great actor and this is one of the top three sports movies of all time .

  2. Sorry to hear the news. He also starred in the 1981 film “Thief” with Jim Belushi, Tuesday Weld, and Willie Nelson.

  3. Always effortlessly commanded the screen. My favorite was “Thief,” where he sacrificed everything to remain independent. Unforgettable.

  4. “I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like all of you to love him too. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him.”

  5. buffalobluecollarlunchbucket56 says:
    July 7, 2022 at 1:50 pm
    Brian’s song was great, emotion football film.


    That movie still makes me cry to this day. James Caan had a great body of work. Rest in peace.

  6. Looking at himself being hung in effigy after a loss in the Program – “Hmm looks like I’ve lost some weight.” RIP Mr Caan

  7. In a behind the scenes segment about the movie Elf, Jon Favreau told him to channel his Sonny Corleone character when it was time to blow up at Buddy about not wanting him in his life anymore. One take. Done.

    Awesome actor in everything he has done.

  8. My favorite film by Caan is the adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery Kathy Bates won Best Actress Academy Award.

  9. Loved him as an actor…Brian’s Song, The Godfather, Misery…so many great roles. RIP.

  10. RIP Sonny…maybe the greatest death scene in all of Hollywood, was a great actor

  11. Godfather as Santino (Sonny), Brians Song, Misery….many others….he will be missed. RIP.

  12. I was 8 years old and cried watching it, my Father came into the livingroom and saw me balling,and he started crying…whenever I even hear the theme from that movie I get choked up..great memories!!

  13. Caan played in a movie with Robert Duvall called The Rain People. Every fan needs to see it. It was Forrest Gump before Forrest Gump, an excellent story …

  14. The James Caan character in Hide in Plain Sight is standing in the unemployment line.
    It was filmed in Buffalo. The person he talks to in this same UE line is someone I went to High School with.
    RIP Mr. Caan

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