Sheila Marie Ryan Caan, 60, dated Elvis, Beatty, Stallone, married James Caan
BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org September 24, 2012 11:28PM
Sheila Marie Caan and James Caan
Updated: October 26, 2012 2:19PM
Sheila Ryan Caan grew up in Franklin Park, but spent her final days surrounded by Hawaiian flowers.
Her son, actor Scott Caan, filled her hospital room with blooms from the islands where he films TV’s “Hawaii Five-O.”
She died of cancer Sept. 18 at her home in Canoga Park, Calif., a day after her 60th birthday.
Back when she was attending East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, her fresh-faced, blond sheen made boys fall silent when she entered a room.
It was no different when she moved out West.
Elvis Presley spotted her in the audience at one of his shows. They dated seriously for a few years.
She met and married actor James Caan around the time his turn as the volcanic Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather” made women’s hearts race.
She also dated Warren Beatty and Sylvester Stallone.
Friends remember her as a strong mother who encouraged Scott Caan to get involved in acting, to keep him on the right path. She also appeared countless times in “Welcome Home, Soldier,” a play at North Hollywood’s Playhouse West that became something of a therapy session for Vietnam veterans.
“The first Vietnam veteran that attended, who kind of started the word among the community, he gave out mementoes like [his service] medals to the cast,” said Robert Carnegie, who co-founded the school and repertory theater with Jeff Goldblum.
Playhouse West has mounted the show for 21 years, several times a year, he said.
“It was an ensemble piece and she played many roles, always the wife of a Vietnam veteran, dealing with the difficulties,” he said. A young Ashley Judd was one of her co-stars in the early productions, he said.
She was born in Melrose Park and attended East Leyden High. She liked hanging around a Franklin Park restaurant, the Owl, at Grand and Scott.
“She could walk into the room and all the men in the room would fall in love with her,” said a high school friend, Diane Zurba. “She was so sweet and pretty and kind.”
After her 1971 graduation, the young Sheila Marie Ryan headed to California. “She just drove out there in a used Volvo,” Zurba said.
In October of 1973, she appeared on the cover of Playboy.
“Elvis spotted her in the audience in Vegas, and I believe she dated and lived with him for two years,” Zurba said.
“She said he was the most generous man she ever met,” Zurba said. “He paid off her mother’s house in Franklin Park.”
They were often photographed together in the flip-do’ed finery of the time. Later, after Elvis’ 1977 death, she would be questioned at a hearing of the Tennessee State Medical Board, where she said she knew he frequently received sleeping pills.
Elvis fans watched his romances like Kremlinologists. Thirty-five years after his death, they still discuss those girlfriends online. In concerts, he often dedicated “And I Love You So” to Sheila Caan, according to the www.elvis.com.au website.
In an interview with the website, Sheila Caan said she and Tennessee pageant queen Linda Thompson were “neck and neck” for Elvis’ affections, for a while.
“And then, you know, there was myself and then Linda Thompson and we were sort of you know, running the race and we were, at first, you know, he was seeing her and then I came along and then it was sort of like a horserace, you know. We were neck and neck and then I fell behind,” she said.
She once told Hollywood gossip Janet Charlton that Elvis loved “Pink Panther” movies — and that he was proud of his “webbed” toes.
Then, “She met James Caan at the Playboy Mansion and immediately fell in love,” Zurba said.
They wed in January 1976. The tempestuous marriage ended by December of that same year, but they co-parented their son, Scott.
“He took such good care of his mother,” Zurba said.
He flew in to visit her during every break in filming, and sent her exotic blooms from Hawaii that perfumed her room, she said.
“She was a dedicated, compassionate, serious mother who did everything she could for her son,” said Carnegie. She sent him to Playhouse West to give him direction, he said. “Scott flourished here in our environment, and he’s still there to this day, coming in at one time or another to teach,” Carnegie said.
In addition to the reboot of “Hawaii Five-O,” he has been featured in TV’s “Entourage” and the “Ocean’s 11” franchise.
She was buried Saturday atop a hill at Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth, Calif., Zurba said. Before she died, “We reminisced and reminisced and made a lot of plans. We were going to go to Graceland.”
She is also survived by her mother, Arlene; her sisters, Vicky Ryan Binetti, Valerie Scott and Gerri Carroll, and her brother, Michael Ryan.
Judging from her Guestbook on legacy.com, she was a favorite of Elvis fans. One wrote, “You can now BE with both KINGS.”