James Gandolfini, who won three Emmys for his portrayal of flawed antihero and conflicted mob boss Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos,” died in Italy at the age of 51 of a possible heart attack. HBO reps confirmed his death on Wednesday.
According to the Taormina Film Festival, he was on his way to the festival where he was expected Thursday. He had been expected to participate in an onstage conversation with Italian director Gabriele Muccino on Saturday at the Sicilian festival.
Gandolfini’s imposing screen presence was the driving force in establishing “The Sopranos” as the most influential TV show of the past generation. The actor was praised for his deft balance of the character’s violence and vulnerability, making the murderous mob boss a sympathetic figure that set the mold for the flawed anti-heroes that populate cable dramas today.
“Jimmy was the spiritual core of our ‘Sopranos’ family, and I am stunned at this devastating loss. He was a great talent, but an even better man,” said Starz CEO Chris Albrecht, who greenlighted “Sopranos” in his previous role running HBO.
The “Sopranos” actor appeared recently in “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” He had been working on Fox Searchlight’s “Animal Rescue,” now in post-production, HBO limited series “Criminal Justice” as well as CBS show “Taxi 22.”
“He was 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. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility,” HBO said in a statement.
Gandolfini had six Emmy lead drama actor nominations as well as a Golden Globe for his work in the “Sopranos,” which ended in 2007. Among his film roles were “Mr. Wonderful,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “Get Shorty” and “True Romance.”
Born in Westwood, New Jersey, his mother was born in the U.S. but raised in Italy and his father was born in Borgotaro, Italy. He attended Rutgers U. and became interested in acting when he accompanied his friend Roger Bart to an acting class.
In 1992, he starred in ”On the Waterfront” on Broadway for six months, and returned to the stage in 2009 in “God of Carnage.”
He is survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, a son and a baby daughter.
(Cynthia Littleton and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.)By Pat Saperstein | Variety – 1 hour 10 minutes ago
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