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Iconic actor James Caan passes away at age 82

Photo via James Caan's Twitter account (@James_Caan)
Photo via James Caan's Twitter account (@James_Caan)

Legendary actor James Caan—who played numerous iconic roles in classic movies including Brian Piccolo in "Brian's Song"—passed away Wednesday at the age of 82.

Caan's family announced the news on his verified Twitter account.

Caan was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, an Emmy and an Oscar. Among his best known films were "The Godfather," "Thief," "Rollerball," "Misery" and "Elf."

Caan will always hold a special place in the heart of Bears fans for his depiction of Piccolo, a Bears running back who passed away due to embryonal cell carcinoma on June 16, 1970, at the age of 26.

The friendship between Piccolo and fellow Bears running back Gale Sayers was featured in "Brian's Song, with Billy Dee Williams playing opposite Caan as Sayers. The 90-minute production first aired on ABC on Nov. 30, 1971, and was such a success that it was later shown in movie theaters.

Some of the filming occurred during Bears training camp at St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 1971. Several players appeared in the film as themselves, including Butkus, O'Bradovich and quarterback Jack Concannon. The movie won four Emmy Awards and was nominated for several others.

Sayers and Piccolo's widow, Joy, spent about a month before filming with Caan and Williams. In Sayers' book entitled "My Life and Times," he wrote: "We talked about everything from the way Brian laughed when he told a joke to the way he handled the pain and agony of having to endure that horrible disease. Caan played the role of Brian in the movie with tremendous passion and skill."

In a 2011 article, Sports Illustrated's Steve Rushin wrote that "Brian's Song" made it OK for men to cry, writing that the movie joined "pepper spray and kidney stones on the very short list of things guaranteed to induce tears."

"It is unclear why—or even if—men had tear ducts prior to 1971," Rushin wrote, "for none had ever wept in public, though Walter Cronkite famously came close, removing his glasses in 1963 to announce the death of President Kennedy.

"So it was a watershed event in every sense of the phrase when ABC aired its 'Tuesday Night Movie of the Week' on November 30, 1971, and men failed to blink back tears in front of their wives and children and even each other for the first time in human history."

A few weeks ago, the Bears commemorated the 52nd anniversary of Piccolo's passing by welcoming several members of his family to practice and having all of their players wear his No. 41 jersey.