Full Name: John Holland Cazale

Description: Actor, USA
Known For: 1972 The Godfather, 1975 Dog Day Afternoon
Location: Revere, Massachusets, United States of America

Date Born: 12th August 1935
Location Born: Revere, Massachusets, United States of America

Date Died: 12th March 1978
Location Died: New York City, New York, United States of America

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John Cazale

An American actor. During his six-year film career, he appeared in five films, each of which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter.

He is the only actor to have this multi-film distinction. From his start as an acclaimed theater actor, he became one of Hollywood’s premier character actors, starting with his role as Fredo Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Godfather.

“Cazale broke hearts on screen with portrayals of volatile, vulnerable, vacillating men, including Pacino’s tragic bank-robbing partner in Dog Day Afternoon,” wrote David Germain of the Associated Press. Cazale is described as an actor “whose intense face is known to just about any serious cinema fan but whose name often escapes them”. He chose to continue acting despite being diagnosed with cancer (either bone cancer or lung cancer, depending on the source) and died in New York City on March 12, 1978 shortly after completing his role in The Deer Hunter. He was 42 years old.

Cazale was characterized as “an amazing intellect, an extraordinary person and a fine, dedicated artist” by Joseph Papp. A film documentary and tribute about Cazale, titled I Knew It Was You, was an entry at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and featured interviews with Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Francis Ford Coppola and Sidney Lumet.

Cazale was born in Revere, Massachusetts, the son of John and Cecilia Cazale.[5] He was of part Italian descent. He studied drama at Oberlin College and Boston University, from which he graduated.

Cazale moved to New York City and worked as a messenger at Standard Oil, where he met Al Pacino, another aspiring actor.

“When I first saw John, I instantly thought he was so interesting,” recalled Pacino. “Everybody was always around him because he had a very congenial way of expressing himself.” While living together in a communal house in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Cazale and Pacino were cast in a play by Israel Horovitz, The Indian Wants the Bronx, for which they both won Obie Awards in 1967-1968. He later won another Obie for the leading role in Horovitz’s Line, where he was noticed by Godfather casting director Fred Roos, who then suggested him to director Francis Ford Coppola.

Cazale had acted on stage with Robert De Niro and Cazale’s girlfriend at the time of his death, Meryl Streep, whom he met when they were both in the Public Theater’s 1976 production of Measure for Measure. In that role, wrote Mel Gussow of The New York Times, “Mr Cazale, often cast as a quirky, weak outsider, as in The Godfather, here demonstrates sterner mettle as a quietly imperious Angelo who sweeps down, vulturelike, to deposit virtue.” He also acted in a short film entitled The American Way, directed by Marvin Starkman in 1962.

Film careerCazale made his feature film debut, alongside his old friend Al Pacino, playing the role of Fredo Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. The film broke box office records and made Pacino, Cazale and several previously unknown co-stars famous, and earned Cazale a Golden Globe nomination.

Cazale reprised his role as Fredo Corleone in 1974 in The Godfather Part II. Bruce Fretts, in Entertainment Weekly, wrote, “Cazale’s devastatingly raw turn intensifies the impact of the drama’s emotional climax.”

“John could open up his heart, so it could be hurt,” said Godfather Part II co-star Dominic Chianese. “That’s a talent few actors have.”

Twelve years after his death, Cazale appeared in a sixth feature film, The Godfather Part III (1990), in archive footage. The Godfather Part III was also nominated for Best Picture. This marks the unique achievement of John Cazale having every feature film in which he appeared be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Also in 1973, he co-starred with Gene Hackman in Coppola’s The Conversation.

Cazale again starred alongside Pacino in Sidney Lumet’s 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon. The film’s screenwriter, Frank Pierson, said “the film had been cast with many of the actors that Al Pacino had worked with in New York, including John Cazale, who was a close friend and collaborator in The Godfather.” For his role as Sal, he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor .

Sidney Lumet commentary

“In the screenplay, Cazale’s role was written to be a smart-ass street kid. But Al came to me and said, ‘Sidney, please, I beg you, read John Cazale for it.’ And when John came in I was so discouraged and thought ‘Al must be out of his mind.’ This guy looks thirty, thirty-two, and that’s the last thing I want in this part. But Al had great taste in actors, and I hadn’t yet seen him in The Godfather. And Cazale came in, and then he read, and my heart broke. . . . “One of the things that I love about the casting of John Cazale … was that he had a tremendous sadness about him. I don’t know where it came from; I don’t believe in invading the privacy of the actors that I work with, or getting into their heads. But my God – it’s there – in every shot of him. And not just in this movie, but in Godfather II also.

“When Al asked him during a scene, ‘Is there any country you want to go to?’ Cazale improvised his answer by saying, after long thought, ‘Wyoming.’ To me that was the funniest, saddest line in the movie, and my favorite, because in the script he wasn’t supposed to say anything. I almost ruined the take because I started to laugh so hard… but it was a brilliant, brilliant, ad lib.”

Al Pacino commentary

“It’s great working with John because he has a way of getting involved – in the whole thing, in the characters. He asks so many questions – he was just brilliant. It was tough to sell Johnny, but once Sidney got to see him read, and work with me, it turned out great.”


Despite being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Cazale continued work with his romantic lover, Meryl Streep, in The Deer Hunter. “I’ve hardly ever seen a person so devoted to someone who is falling away like John was,” said Pacino. “To see her in that act of love for this man was overwhelming.”

Director Michael Cimino “rearranged the shooting schedule,” wrote author Andy Dougan, “with Cazale and Streep’s consent, so that he could film all his scenes first.” He completed all his scenes, but died soon after, on March 12, 1978 before the film was finished. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, Massachusetts.


Cazale appeared in five full-length feature films while alive, plus a sixth using archival footage. All six films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and The Deer Hunter all won the award.

List of acting credits in film and television Year Title Role Notes
1972 The Godfather Fredo Corleone
1974 The Conversation Stan
The Godfather Part II Fredo Corleone
1975 Dog Day Afternoon Salvatore Naturile Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
1978 The Deer Hunter Stanley (“Stosh”)
1990 The Godfather Part III Fredo Corleone Archive footage