Caan was born in The Bronx, New York City, the son of Sophie and Arthur Caan, Jewish immigrants from Germany. His father was a meat dealer. Caan grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, New York City. He was educated at P.S. 150 40-01 43rd Avenue School in Queens, at the private Rhodes Preparatory School, also in New York City, and then attended Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, studying economics. Caan played college football at MSU, as quarterback for the Spartan freshman team in 1956. He later transferred to Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, but did not graduate. However, while studying at Hofstra University, he became intrigued by acting and was interviewed for, accepted to and graduated from New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, where one of his instructors was Sanford Meisner.
Caan began his acting career in television on such series as The Untouchables, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Combat!, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, The Wide Country, Alcoa Premiere, Route 66, and Naked City. In 1964, he starred as Jewish athlete Jeff Brubaker in the episode "My Son, the All-American" of Channing, a drama about college life.
His first substantial film role was as a punk hoodlum in the 1964 thriller Lady in a Cage, which starred Olivia de Havilland. In 1965 he landed his first starring role in Howard Hawks's auto-racing drama Red Line 7000. In 1967, Caan appeared as Alan Badillion Trahern aka Mississippi in El Dorado with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. He had a starring role in Robert Altman's second feature film, Countdown, in 1968. In 1969, his appearance on the spy sitcom Get Smart was uncredited, billed as "Rupert of Rathskeller as Himself"; in that same year he won praise for his role as a brain-damaged football player in The Rain People (1969) directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
1970 to 1982Edit
The following year, Coppola cast Caan as the trigger-tempered Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. Originally, Caan was to be cast as the main character Michael Corleone (Sonny's youngest brother, who would be the main character in the film series), however Coppola demanded that it be played by Al Pacino instead. Although another actor was already signed to play Sonny, the studio insisted on having Caan for that role, so he remained in the production. Caan was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film, competing with co-stars Pacino and Robert Duvall. It can be said that out of The Godfather cast, Caan was the most identified with his role, often mistaken for Italian despite his Jewish heritage, and he remarked “They called me a wiseguy. I won Italian of the Year twice in New York, and I’m not Italian.… I was denied in a country club once. Oh, yeah, the guy sat in front of the board, and he says, ‘No, no, he’s a wiseguy, been downtown. He’s a made guy.’ I thought, What? Are you out of your mind?”
From 1971 to 1982, Caan appeared in many films, playing a wide variety of roles. His films included T.R. Baskin, Cinderella Liberty, Freebie and the Bean, The Godfather Part II, Rollerball, a musical turn in Funny Lady, Harry And Walter Go To New York, A Bridge Too Far, Comes A Horseman and Neil Simon's autobiographical Chapter Two. In 1980, Caan directed Hide In Plain Sight, a film about a father searching for his children lost in the Witness Protection Program. Despite critical praise, the film was not a hit with the public. The following year, Caan appeared in the neo-noir movie Thief, directed by Michael Mann, in which he played a professional safe cracker. Caan has often said it is the role of which he is proudest next to The Godfather.
1982 to the presentEdit
From 1982 to 1987, Caan suffered from depression over his sister's death, a growing problem with cocaine, and what he described as "Hollywood burnout," and did not act in any films. He returned to acting in 1987 when Coppola cast him as an army platoon sergeant for the "Old Guard" in Gardens of Stone, a film that dealt with the effect of the Vietnam War on the United States homefront. In 1988 and 1990, Caan starred in the films Alien Nation, Dick Tracy, and Misery, a hit film that marked a comeback for Caan. Since the script for Misery called for Paul Sheldon to spend most of his time in bed, the role was turned down by many of Hollywood's leading actors before Caan accepted.
In 1992, Caan appeared in Honeymoon in Vegas, and in 1993, he played Coach Winters in The Program alongside Halle Berry. In 1996, he appeared in Bottle Rocket and pursued Arnold Schwarzenegger in Eraser and later starred as kingpin Frank Colton in Bulletproof with Adam Sandler and Damon Wayans. In 1998, Caan portrayed Philip Marlowe in the HBO film Poodle Springs. Some of his most recent appearances have been in Mickey Blue Eyes (1999), The Way of the Gun (2000),The Yards (2000), City of Ghosts (2002), Night at the Golden Eagle (2002), Dogville (2003), and Elf (2003).
In 2003, Caan auditioned for and won the role of Montecito Hotel/Casino president "Big Ed" Deline in Las Vegas. On February 27, 2007, Caan announced that he would not return to the show for its fifth season in order to return to film work; he was replaced by Tom Selleck.
Caan played the President of the United States in the 2008 film Get Smart, and had a part in the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs as the voice of the father of the lead character, Flint. As of 2010, Caan is the chairman of an Internet company called Openfilm, intended to help upcoming filmmakers.
Caan has been married four times. In 1960 he married Dee Jay Mathis; they divorced in 1966. They had a daughter, Tara A. Caan, born on November 5, 1964. Caan's second marriage, to Sheila Ryan (a former girlfriend of Elvis Presley), in 1976 was short-lived: they divorced the following year. Their son, Scott Caan, who is also an actor, was born August 23, 1976.
From September 1990 to March 1995, Caan was married to Ingrid Hajek; they had a son, Alexander James Caan, born on April 10, 1991. He married Linda Stokes in October 1996, and they have two sons, James Arthur Caan (born November 6, 1995) and Jacob Nicholas Caan (born September 24, 1998). Caan filed for divorce on November 20, 2009, citing irreconcilable differences.
Caan is a practicing martial artist. He has trained with Takayuki Kubota for nearly thirty years, earning various ranks. He is a Master (Rank = 6 Dan) of Gosoku Ryu Karate and was granted the title of Soke Dai by the International Karate Association. Caan trained the Culver City Police Department in martial arts use.
Caan is an avid golfer with an 8 handicap. He is acting assistant golf coach to PGA professional and good friend Greg Osbourne at Glendale Community College in Southern California. He played in the LPGA pro-am event in Aventura, Florida on April 23–25, 2008.