James Caan & The Mafia: Godfather’s Sonny Corleone Hung With Real Gangsters, Almost Got Bit By Feds Preparing For Role In Chicago

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July 8, 2022 — Distinguished Hollywood actor James Caan had close personal links to real-life mafia members in New York and Chicago; a mob boss in Brooklyn was godfather to his son, Scott, and in the early 1980s he was running around with a Chicago mob crew in preparation for his role in the Michael Mann film Thief before being told to peel back his affiliation or he would be arrested.

Caan died of natural causes at age 82 this week. He became world famous for portraying the hot-headed Sonny Corleone in the blockbuster film The Godfather in 1972. <

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Two of Caan’s closest friends were Colombo crime family power Andy (Mush) Russo and Bonanno crime family soldier Ronnie Lorenzo. Russo served as acting boss for the Colombos on-and-off from the 1990s until he died earlier this year at age 87 while under indictment in a federal racketeering case. Caan was a groomsman at Russo’s wedding. When Caan’s son Scott was born in 1976, Russo was named his godfather.

The 76-year old Lorenzo relocated to L.A. from New York in 1982. He opened up a popular Malibu restaurant and club called Splash and was eventually nailed in a cocaine-trafficking investigation. Through Lorenzo, Caan spent time with New Jersey mob soldier Joey Ippolito during Ippolito’s visits to town to check on his West Coast drug and gambling operations. Caan testified as a character witness for both Lorenzo and Ippolito in their cocaine-distribution cases.

In 1980, Caan was in Chicago getting ready to shoot the movie Thief about a career burglar falling in love and feuding with the mob when he was approached by two FBI agents leaving his swanky downtown hotel one night and warned to stay away from the Chicago Outfit’s Southside “Chinatown” crew or risk an embarrassing detainment. The FBI had intercepted talks of Caan joining a Southside burglary unit for a series of jobs on a wire installed in a Chinatown social club.