John Cazale

John Cazale


Also Known As
John Holland Cazale
Birth Place
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
August 12, 1935
March 12, 1978
Cause of Death
Bone Cancer


While he only made five pictures in his all too brief career, noted supporting actor John Cazale made the most of his brief time on screen before his life was cut short by bone cancer. Having had his start on the stage with notable performances in off-Broadway productions, Cazale was cast by director Francis Ford Coppola to play the weak and ineffectual Fredo Corleone in "The Godfather" ...

Family & Companions

Meryl Streep
Actor. Met when they appeared together in "Measure for Measure" (1976); lived together until his death.


While he only made five pictures in his all too brief career, noted supporting actor John Cazale made the most of his brief time on screen before his life was cut short by bone cancer. Having had his start on the stage with notable performances in off-Broadway productions, Cazale was cast by director Francis Ford Coppola to play the weak and ineffectual Fredo Corleone in "The Godfather" (1972). His part was small and less fiery than those of co-stars Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan and Robert Duvall, but Cazale gave everything he had and made his moments count. Coppola cast him again as Gene Hackman's sound assistant in the paranoid thriller "The Conversation" (1974) and expanded Fredo's role significantly for "The Godfather, Par II" (1974). Cazale shined as the traitorous Fredo in the second installment, but really came into his own opposite Pacino in Sidney Lumet's "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975), which marked the best collaboration between the two acting partners. After returning to the stage and falling deeply in love with a then-unknown Meryl Streep, Cazale received a terminal prognosis of bone cancer, which almost jeopardized him being cast in Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter" (1978). Cazale's scenes were filmed quickly and died before the film was released, leaving behind a brief legacy that included only five films, but all of which were nominated for Best Picture.

Born on Aug. 12, 1935 in Boston, MA, Cazale was raised the middle child of three by his father, a wholesale coal salesman, and his homemaker mother. His father traveled for work across New England and was rarely home, leaving Cazale and his two siblings, Stephen and Catharine, to spend most of their time with their mother, Cecilia. After studying acting at Oberlin College and earning his bachelor's degree in performing arts from Boston University, Cazale moved to New York City to become an actor. To make ends meet, he worked sporadically as a taxi driver, a photographer and a messenger for Standard Oil, where he met another struggling actor named Al Pacino. They fell out of touch for a few years, while Cazale appeared in such plays as "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" and "The Contractor." He reunited with Pacino during the 1967-68 theater season when the two co-starred in Israel Horovitz's "The Indian Wants the Bronx," which earned him an OBIE Award for Distinguished Performance. Cazale won a second OBIE in 1968 in the same category for his performance in Horovitz's one-act absurdist drama, "Line," which featured a young Richard Dreyfus in the lead.

The following year, Cazale co-starred with Pacino in "The Local Stigmatic" (1969), but it was the strength of his performance in "Line" that attracted the attention of director Francis Ford Coppola, who was having trouble casting the role of Fredo Corleone for "The Godfather" (1972). Coppola had auditioned a number of actors for the part and found no one suitable to play the weak son of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). But his attention was called to Cazale, who was performing in "Line" at the time, and the director knew right away that he had found his actor. Though not prominent in "The Godfather," often lingering in the background in the film's first scenes, Cazale made the most of his time on the screen, particularly when he failed to protect his father, leading to the Don being hit by thugs while shopping for fruit. All of Fredo's weakness and inability to lead the family was brilliantly portrayed by Cazale, whose breakdown next to his father's bleeding body was one of the shining moments in the film.

Cazale worked again with Coppola on the director's critically acclaimed paranoid thriller "The Conversation" (1974), in which he played the assistant of surveillance expert, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), hired to track a young couple (Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest), only to uncover a conspiracy to commit murder. Once again, his part was small, but he made a lasting impression while bringing out the best in his co-stars. Cazale reprised Fredo for a more prominent supporting performance in Coppola's multi-Oscar winning sequel, "The Godfather, Part II" (1974). Though he is now one of Michael's underbosses who runs a Las Vegas nightclub, Fredo has been given no real power, making him feel that he has been passed over for being head of the family. These feelings of inadequacy - underscored in early scenes where he is mocked by his inebriated wife for not being a real man - eventually lead Fredo to betray Michael (Pacino) to rival gangster Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg). That betrayal results in Roth putting out a hit on Michael, who learns that his own brother went against him. Cazale's final scene with Pacino, where years of Fredo's frustrations boil over, was nothing short of brilliant and should have propelled him to an Academy Award nomination. Instead, Cazale's finely tuned work was once again overlooked.

His finest screen performance came with his next film, "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975), Sidney Lumet's tense crime thriller based on real events from 1972 that also doubled as a searing commentary on overzealous police. Cazale played the dark and brooding Sal Naturile, who helps his desperate friend Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) rob a Chase Manhattan bank in Brooklyn in order to help pay for a sex change operation for Sonny's so-called wife, Leon (Chris Sarandon). Slow-witted and trigger-ready, Cazale's Sal was perfectly portrayed by the actor and was the perfect compliment to Pacino's intense and often manic Sonny. Though he earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Cazale - much like Fredo in "The Godfather, Part II" - was once again passed over by the Academy. Still, his performance opposite Pacino marked a true high point in their collaborations. Meanwhile, Cazale returning to the stage alongside Pacino to co-star in a production of Bertolt Brecht's gangster saga "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" (1975) at the Charles Playhouse in Boston.

The following year, Cazale delivered an against type performance as the imperious Angelo to Meryl Streep's headstrong Isabella in the New York Shakespeare Festival's Central Park production of "Measure for Measure" (1976), which also marked the beginning of the romantic relationship between him and the then-unknown Streep. But the union proved brief, as Cazale was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. His diagnosis was so fast and severe that Cazale had become uninsurable, making him a liability for Universal Pictures, which was financing Michael Cimino's unrelenting Vietnam War drama, "The Deer Hunter" (1978). Cimino fought adamantly for Cazale to play Stanley and eventually won his actor when co-stars Robert De Niro and Streep threatened to walk if he was not cast. Cimino moved the film's schedule around so that Cazale's scenes would be filmed first. In the end, it was clear that the effects of his deadly cancer were beginning to show. Still, the actor was able to craft yet another memorable performance. Cazale never saw the finished product, as he died on March 12, 1978. He was 42. Though he only appeared in five films in his career, all five were nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Friends like Pacino, De Niro, Streep and Hackman deeply mourned his loss, and years later expressed their love of the man and his acting talent in the documentary, "I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale" (HBO, 2009). Of Cazale, Pacino said, "All I wanted to do was work with John for the rest of my life. He was my acting partner."

By Shawn Dwyer

Life Events


First made mark Off-Broadway in "Line" "The Indian Want The Bronx", by Israel Horowitz; first collaboration with Al Pacino


Appeared onstage with Pacino in "The Local Stigmatic"


Feature film debut as Fredo Corleone, the middle son, in "The Godfather", directed by Francis Ford Coppola and co-starring Pacino


Reteamed with Coppola as Gene Hackman's assistant in "The Conversation"


Reprised role of Fredo Corleone in "The Godfather, Part II"; earned Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination


Co-starred with Pacino in Sidney Lumet's "Dog Day Afternoon"


Appeared in support of Pacino in "The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui" at the Charles Playhouse in Boston, MA


Co-starred opposite Meryl Streep in New York Shakespeare Festival production of "Measure for Measure"


Final film, "The Deerhunter", co-starring Streep

Photo Collections

The Deer Hunter - Lobby Cards
Here are several Lobby Cards from Universal's The Deer Hunter (1978), starring Robert De Niro. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.


Movie Clip

Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - It's For You Having bungled trying to burn the traveler's check register, bank robber Sonny (Al Pacino) and partner Sal (John Cazale) learn from the manager (Sully Boyar) that cop Moretti (Charles Durning) is on the phone, in Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, 1975.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - That's Not A Country Ex-con Sonny (Al Pacino) calculating options with hostages (Penny Allen, Sully Boyar) in the Brooklyn bank, consults with his dim-witted fellow ex-con partner Sal (John Cazale), Charles Durning as the city cop Moretti, Sidney Lumet directing from Frank Pierson’s fact-based screenplay, in Dog Day Afternoon, 1975.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - Attica! Bank robber Sonny (Al Pacino), now holding hostages, rallies the Brooklyn crowd, citing the infamous 1971 prison riot, after an obscene in-person confrontation with cop Moretti (Charles Durning), a famous scene from Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, 1975.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - He Can't Make It Following credits establishing Brooklyn, NY, August 22, 1972, Sonny (Al Pacino), Sal (John Cazale) and hesitant Stevie (Gary Springer) begin their bank job, in Sidney Lumet's fact-based Dog Day Afternoon, 1975.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) - They're Bringing In Your Wife Something of a spoiler, as writer Frank Pierson delivers one of the noted plot curve-balls of the decade in his fact-based screenplay, as cop Moretti (Charles Durning) tells hostage-holding bank robber Sonny (Al Pacino) that his wife has arrived, not expecting Chris Sarandon as Leon, in Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, 1975.
Conversation, The (1974) - Pioneer Glass We're just meeting Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), as he drops in on colleague Stan (John Cazale), as they monitor Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest in San Francisco's Union Square, continuing the opening sequence in The Conversation, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
Conversation, The (1974) - Reconstruction Hired corporate surveillance man Harry (Gene Hackman) begins his reconstruction of the conversation between still nameless targets Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest, with acclaimed work by editor Walter Murch, in Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, 1974.
Deer Hunter, The (1978) - Don't Get Your Ass Shot Off! Co-writer and director Michael Cimino perhaps forges his characters, Russian-American steel workers in Clairton, Pa., ca. 1967, Mike (Robert De Niro) Stevie (John Savage), Nick (Christopher Walken) headed for Viet Nam, sidekicks Stan (John Cazale) and Axel (Chuck Aspegren), opening The Deer Hunter, 1978.
Deer Hunter, The (1978) - Can't Take My Eyes Off You Famous beery camaraderie from director Michael Cimino, the Four Seasons hit by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, Mike and Nick (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken) shooting pool, Stan (John Cazale) counseling bridegroom Stevie (John Savage), the wedding and Viet Nam looming, in The Deer Hunter, 1978.
Deer Hunter, The (1978) - This Is This After the wedding and before Viet Nam, Michael Cimino shooting his Pennsylvania steel-workers’ last hunting trip in the Washington Cascades, John Cazale as profane Stanley, Robert De Niro as Mike, Christopher Walken as conciliating Nick, with Chuck Aspegren, George Dzundza, in The Deer Hunter, 1979.



Cecilia Cazale
Survived him.
Catherine Cazale Benjamin
Survived him.
Stephen Cazale
Survived him.


Meryl Streep
Actor. Met when they appeared together in "Measure for Measure" (1976); lived together until his death.