LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — As Santino “Sonny” Corleone in “The Godfather,” James Caan tried to keep brother Michael — played by a young Al Pacino — out of the family business.

It’s what his father, Vito Corleone, wanted for Michael, but it was never going to happen.

In another scene, Caan played the hot-headed Sonny perfectly, drawing his father’s wrath for opening his mouth during an important business meeting.

James Caan as Santino “Sonny” Corleone in “The Godfather,” the movie based on the novel by Mario Puzo and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

“Are you telling me that the Tattaglia family guarantee our investment?” Sonny said as Vito Corleone listened to a proposal to go into the drug business. Vito — played by Marlon Brando — put Sonny in his place and “The Godfather” showed the movie world the true meaning of “family” in a context that would shape public perception for decades.

Caan’s role was full of memorable scenes that launched the series of movies into an often-quoted cultural phenomenon, and laid the foundation for a number of gritty roles in the actor’s career.

He died Wednesday at 82, according to his family.

The TV series “Las Vegas” and the movie “The Gambler” tied his career to Las Vegas.

“Las Vegas” premiered on Sept. 22, 2003, and ran for five seasons on NBC. Caan played Ed Deline, who ascends to lead the Montecito — a fictional resort on the Las Vegas Strip. Images of Mandalay Bay and Green Valley Ranch were sometimes used to represent the resort, but filming took place at California studios.

The pilot for the show reportedly cost $5 million, and was the most expensive pilot in the network’s history.

Caan left the series after four seasons to resume his film career.

“The Gambler,” released in 1974, was a hard look at the life of a compulsive gambler. It’s full of bad decisions by the lead character — Axel Freed, a New York City professor played by Caan who spirals out of control. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll never confuse it with the Kenny Rogers movie of the same name.

He goes to Las Vegas with hopes of digging out from under a pile of debt. But even after he gets ahead, he falls to his compulsive habits and loses even more. Mob themes, sports fixing and violence follow as Caan’s character seems bent on destroying himself.

He also had a role as a professional gambler in “Honeymoon in Vegas,” a 1992 movie featuring Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Many of Caan’s other movie roles had mob themes, but most were set on the East Coast.

Caan told The Hollywood Reporter that he improvised one scene in “The Godfather,” grabbing a photographer’s camera and throwing it to the ground, followed by a $20 bill to pay for the damage.

He also said legendary comedian Don Rickles provided some inspiration for “Sonny” Corleone. “It wasn’t imitating Don Rickles. It was having that drive, that thing, you know? I was just locked into that,” he said in a 2021 interview.