Who was John Cazale?

The late American actor John Holland Cazale was born in Revere, Massachusetts USA, on 12 August 1935, meaning that Leo was his zodiac sign. He appeared in only two TV series and six movies, and is perhaps still remembered best for playing Fredo Corleone in what’s widely rated one of the best movies of all time – the 1972 crime drama “The Godfather”. Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed the film, which starred James Caan, Al Pacino and Marlon Brando, and follows the life of an aging mafia boss; it won 32 of its 63 award nominations, including three Oscar wins for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando) and Best Picture.

John’s also remembered for having been in a relationship with famous American actress Mary Louise ‘Meryl’ Streep at the time of his death.

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Education and early life

John, his older sister Catherine and younger brother Stephen were raised in Revere by their Italian-American father John Cazale, who passed away in 1957 aged 60, and Irish-American mother Cecilia Holland who was 99 when she died in 1997; Catherine died on 2 February 2000, aged 68.

John fell in love with acting while studying at the Buxton School, joining its drama club and appearing in most of the plays performed at the school; his parents supported his dreams, but still preferred that he pursued education first.

John matriculated in 1953 and then enrolled at Oberlin College to study drama, eventually transferring to Boston University, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1957.


John became a taxi driver in Boston, Massachusetts upon graduation, nbefore in 1959 launching his acting career by appearing in plays “Our Town” and “Hotel Paradiso”, both performed at the Charles Playhouse.

He then moved to New York City, believing that he would have more acting opportunities there, and supported himself by working as a photographer; one of his first roles in New York was in a production of “Paths of Glory”. John appeared in the off-Broadway play “J. B.” at the Master Theatre on 17 March 1962, while the year 1968 saw him star alongside Al Pacino in the play “The Indian Wants the Bronx”, for which they both won an Obie Award.

John became a member of the Long Wharf Theatre Company in 1969, and appeared in the plays “You Can’t Take it With You”, “The Iceman Cometh” and “The Skin of Our Teeth”.

Roles in movies

John’s debut film role was playing Beatnik in the 1962 short comedy “The American Way”, and the year 1974 saw him portray the lead character Stan in the critically acclaimed mystery thriller “The Conversation”, which Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed, and which also starred Allen Garfield and Gene Hackman. It follows the life of a paranoid surveillance expert, and the movie won 15 of its 32 award nominations, including Oscar nominations for Best Sound, Best Writing, Original Screenplay and Best Picture.

John reprised his role as Fredo Corleone in the 1974 crime drama “The Godfather Part II”, and the following year saw him star as Sal in the evergreen biographical crime drama “Dog Day Afternoon”, directed by Sidney Lumet, and which also starred Al Pacino and Penelope Allen. It follows three amateur bank robbers as they’re holding up a bank, and the movie won 14 of its 35 award nominations, including an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

John’s final film role was playing Stan, one of the main characters in the 1978 war drama “The Deer Hunter”, which Michael Cimino wrote and directed, and which also starred Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken. It tells the story of how the Vietnam War affected several friends from a small town in Pennsylvania, and the movie won 24 of its 51 award nominations, including five Oscar wins, some of which for Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Christopher Walken) and Best Picture.

Roles in TV series

John made his debut TV series appearance in the 1968 episode “The Peep Freak” of the crime drama “N. Y. P. D.”, and his only other role was playing Fredo Corleone in the 1977 crime thriller mini-series “The Godfather Saga”, which is the first two “Godfather” movies edited in one, with additional footage.

John Cazale (seen here with Meryl Streep) was in five feature films during his brief career. Every single one of the…

Posted by The Academy on Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Other credits

John edited the 1962 short comedy movie “The American Way”, and worked as the director of photography on the 1969 short film “The Box”.

He was featured in the 1971 short documentary movie “The Godfather: Behind the Scenes” and the 1975 short documentary film “Lumet: Film Maker”, both released after his death.

Awards and nominations

John was nominated for a 1976 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, for his performance in “Dog Day Afternoon”.

Love life and relationship with Meryl

John met Meryl Streep when they co-starred in the 1976 production of “Measure for Measure” at the Delacorte Theatre; the two fell in love and moved in together in the same year.

Meryl looked after John after he was diagnosed with cancer, and was by his side when he passed away; famous American actor Al Pacino stated that he had never seen anyone so devoted to their loved one as Meryl was to John.

Meryl’s today considered to be one of the best actresses of all time; she’s appeared in 95 TV series and movies, and has won three Oscars for her performances in movies “Kramer vs. Kramer”, “Sophie’s Choice”, and “The Iron Lady”.

John didn’t speak of other women whom he had dated, and was in a relationship with Meryl Streep at the time of his death.

Interesting facts

One of John’s closest friends, American playwright, actor and director Israel Horovitz wrote a eulogy in the magazine “The Village Voice” on 27 March 1978, with parts of it reading ‘He was an invention, a small perfection… John Cazale happens once in a lifetime.’

All of the six movies in which John appeared were nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, with three winning it.

He was described as ‘very emotionally sensitive’ and ‘often shy’.

Al Pacino believes that John was one of the best actors of all time, and stated not long after his death that he had learned a lot from John.

The McGinn/Cazale Theatre in New York City was named after John.

The documentary movie about John’s life – “I Knew It Was You” – was released in 2009.

Death and wealth

John died from lung cancer at the age of 42, on 13 March 1978. He was diagnosed a year earlier and underwent several different treatments, but the cancer had metastasized to his bones; John was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery.

At the time of his death, John’s net worth was estimated at over $2 million.

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