James Caan (PRCA File Photo)

Courtesy ProRodeo.com

 James Caan, the veteran screen actor known for his work in films such as Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather,” “Misery” and “Elf,” passed away on July 6. He was 82.
 His family released a statement about his death on his verified Twitter account.
“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6,” the statement read. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
 They did not disclose a cause of death.

  What fans of Caan may not realize is he was a PRCA tie-down roper and team roper. Caan earned $2,404 in his PRCA career – all in team roping.
Caan loved sports and acknowledged in stories that he found competing in the PRCA a challenge. He became interested in roping when he was on location in Nebraska, filming the movie “The Rain People,” which came out in 1969.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing in the beginning, but I’m really a good mimic,” Caan was quoted saying in the 1983 Official ProRodeo Media Guide. “I worked hard at my roping and learned it.”
 Caan added that he thoroughly enjoyed competing with PRCA cowboys.
 “Being around the people,” Caan said in a newspaper article. “I like the way they treat me. It was hard to win their acceptance and respect. At first, they figured here comes this Hollywood actor wantin’ to play cowboys. I had to win to be accepted. After you win a few times, they treat you like just another guy out there competing and who can beat them sometimes. You can just be yourself. I don’t know what it is. It is partly being able to act out a kid’s fantasy. But I like being around them. It cleanses my brain.”
In 1980, Caan, a heeler, competing with 1974 PRCA Team Roping World Champion H.P. Evetts won money at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver with a 7.3-second run.
“I think the reason the cowboys accept me is because I’m at a rodeo to win,” Caan said in Jan. 14, 1980, PRCA press release. “I’m not some Hollywood guy who acts like a professional roper, I am one. As a matter of fact, my rodeo accomplishments mean more to me than my Oscar nomination for the “Godfather.” There’s something about rodeo dirt that makes me feel clean – it gets me away from the fakery of Hollywood, and back to the basics.”
Caan first found fame playing Chicago Bears halfback Brian Piccolo in “Brian’s Song,” a widely seen 1971 TV movie. The tear-jerking film chronicled Piccolo’s real-life battle with terminal cancer and drew praise for its treatment of the interracial friendship between Piccolo and his African-American teammate, Gale Sayers.