Sopranos star James Gandolfini dies in Italy

2013-06-20 08:24

Los Angeles – James Gandolfini, the burly actor best known for his Emmy-winning portrayal of a conflicted New Jersey mob boss in the groundbreaking cable TV series The Sopranos, died yesterday vacationing in Italy. He was 51.

Gandolfini, whose role as Tony Soprano made him a household name while transforming the HBO network and ushering in a new era of drama on American television, had been scheduled to attend the closing of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily on Saturday.

He died of a possible heart attack in Rome, HBO spokeswoman Mara Mikialian told Reuters.

Since The Sopranos ended its six-season run in June 2007, Gandolfini appeared in a number of big-screen roles, including Zero Dark Thirty, a film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

At the time of his death, he had been working on an upcoming HBO series Criminal Justice.

HBO declined to elaborate on the series other than to say it was in development and Gandolfini was a part of it.

He had two motion pictures due in theaters next year.

“We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family,” the network said in a statement.

“He was a special man, a great talent, but more importantly, a gentle and loving person who treated everyone, no matter their title or position, with equal respect.”

Gandolfini, a virtual unknown when cast in The Sopranos, broke ground with his signature portrait of the show’s title character, the head of a fictional New Jersey mob family.

Although he shared the character’s Italian-American heritage and New Jersey roots, the actor was known for a reserved demeanor off-camera and generally shied away from publicity.

As Tony Soprano, Gandolfini created a gangster different from any previously seen in American television or film. He was capable of killing enemies with his own hands but was prone to panic attacks. He loved his wife, Carmela, played by Edie Falco, and was a doting father, but he carried on a string of extramarital affairs.

He regularly saw a therapist, portrayed by Lorraine Bracco, to work out his anxiety problems and issues with his mother.

By the start of the show’s final season, Gandolfini suggested he was ready to move on to more gentle roles once his TV mobster days were over.

“I’m too tired to be a tough guy or any of that stuff anymore,” he said. “We pretty much used all that up in this show.”

Gandolfini had a son, Michael, with his first wife, Marcy Wudarski, whom he divorced in 2002. In 2008, he married model Deborah Lin, who gave birth to a daughter, Liliana, in 2012.

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