James Gandolfini, Sopranos star, dies in Italy aged 51


Lizo Mzimba takes a look back at James Gandolfini's career

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James Gandolfini, the US actor best known for his role as a therapy-seeking mob boss in The Sopranos, has died at the age of 51.

Gandolfini suffered a possible heart attack while on holiday in Rome, the US HBO TV network told the BBC.

The New Jersey-born star had been in Italy to attend the Taormina film festival in Sicily.

He won three Emmy awards for his role as Tony Soprano, a mafia boss juggling his criminal career and family life.

Actress Edie Falco, who played his on-screen wife Carmela, said: "I am shocked and devastated by Jim's passing. He was a man of tremendous depth and sensitivity, with a kindness and generosity beyond words. I consider myself very lucky to have spent 10 years as his close colleague.

"My heart goes out to his family. As those of us in his pretend one hold on to the memories of our intense and beautiful time together. The love between Tony and Carmela was one of the greatest I've ever known."

Family friend Michael Kobald told a news conference in Rome that Gandolfini had experienced "a medical emergency" in his hotel room, where he was found by a family member.

"It is with immense sorrow that we report our client James Gandolfini passed away today while on holiday in Rome, Italy," said his managers, Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders, in a statement on Wednesday night.

"Our hearts are shattered and we will miss him deeply."

HBO also said the star of The Sopranos, which ran for six series on the cable channel from 1999-2007, would be "deeply missed".

From bartender to Broadway

James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

  • 1961: Born in Westwood, New Jersey to school dinner lady and a bricklayer, both of Italian descent
  • Gained BA in Communications from Rutgers University
  • 1993: Played woman-beating mafia enforcer Virgil in Tony Scott's True Romance
  • 1995: Performed in Broadway's On the Waterfront.
  • 1999: Debut appearance as New Jersey Mafia boss Tony Soprano, for which he won three Emmys and a Golden Globe during its eight-year-run
  • 2007: Produced HBO documentary on injured Iraq War veterans and their devotion to America
  • 2012: Executive producer of HBO film Hemingway & Gellhorn, starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman

"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," said its statement.

"He touched so many of us over the years with his humour, his warmth and his humility."

Gandolfini was born in 1961 in Westwood, New Jersey, to a school dinner lady and a bricklayer-turned-school caretaker, both of Italian background.

He graduated with a degree in communications from New Jersey's Rutgers University.

Then he moved to New York, finding work as a bartender and a club manager.

Gandolfini's acting career took off in 1992 when he landed a part in a Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

His breakthrough role came a year later playing a mobster in the movie True Romance.

Gandolfini's more recent film credits included In The Loop, Zero Dark Thirty and Killing Them Softly.

He was nominated for a Tony theatre award in 2009 for his role in the Broadway hit God of Carnage.


Gandolfini is survived by his second wife, Deborah Lin, a former model from Hawaii, whom he married in 2008, and their daughter, Liliana, born last year.

He also leaves a teenage son, Michael, from his first marriage to Marcy Wudarski, his former personal assistant. They wed in 1999 and split three years later.

Sopranos creator David Chase said Gandolfini was a "genius".

"He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time," he said. "A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes."

James Gandolfini and wife Deborah Lin in Los Angeles on 11 April 2011 Gandolfini with his second wife, Deborah Lin

Lorraine Bracco, who played Tony Soprano's psychiatrist, Dr Jennifer Melfi, in the TV drama, said: "We lost a giant today. I am utterly heartbroken."

Jeff Daniels, who starred with Gandolfini in God of Carnage, said: "If Broadway has a version of a guy you want in your foxhole, Jim Gandolfini was mine."

In a December 2012 interview with the Associated Press news agency, Gandolfini said he had become an actor to overcome his anger.

"I don't know what exactly I was angry about," he said.

"I try to avoid certain things and certain kinds of violence at this point," he added. "I'm getting older, too. I don't want to be beating people up as much."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Come on all you "Z" Listers - all jump on the band wagon about what a lovely man he was.....even though most of you probably never met him!

    To me he will always be the mobster in the bathroom scene in True Romance - pure classic!

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Strangely enough before going to work on Tuesday morning I was hooked on back-to-back YouTube Sopranos clips - a strangely hypnotic experience, and yet so entertaining. One of those situations where you're saying, "I'll just watch one more..." It made me resolve to start watching the box set for yet another time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    We all get whacked sooner or later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    This is really terrible to hear. I did enjoy watching him on TV and could not help noticing him piling on a lot of weight recently. This could have contributed to the cause but that aside, he was a great actor and he will be missed by many people from around the globe.
    Will always remember one of his famous quotes: “What use is an unloaded gun?”
    RIP mate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Opening the fridge door looking for the left over cold cuts or baked Ziti...RIP Skip

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Legend. Will be missed.

  • Comment number 85.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Terrible news at such an age. As a young person he's one of the first people to die whom I feel I've grown up with. His sad eyes will indeed be missed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Being touched and moved by a powerful actor, to the point where your whole being suffocates from pure empathy and pleasure, seems like you've TRULY come to have a glimpse into a very real part of that person.

    Because the craft of acting IS a craft of BEING, die hard fans feel his loss with sincerity and sadness as it momentarily arouses the nature found in a bond between actor and fan.

    RIP JG

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Not one to be pretentious but it was only series that I've watched ever. In general apart from sports, News, films and some documentaries I don't watch much TV. Sopranos was an exception. James Gandolfini was one of the main reasons that made me watch that. I love it. Now I own a box set too. Sad, very sad to hear to lose him this early as I always had a hope that they might return again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Whilst he doubtless played other great parts, his towering performance as Tony S was a masterpiece that kept me gripped for 7 years of my life. Stumled on Season 1 by accident one evening and was immediately hooked by his brilliant portrayal of a man who flipped from quiet menace to outright scary to confused and worried man on the verge of a breakdown. Fine acting James. Fade to black in peace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    He was a great character actor, who was good even in rather misfiring films such as Romance and Cigarettes. (I often replay his "Man without Love" sequence near the start.)

    I think part of why we miss him so much was he did warm, human, entertaining work and would have certainly done more. It's not often you run across an American actor who can truly be called "well loved".

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    So shockingly sad, Gandolfini's performance as Tony Soprano is magnificent, its up there with the best film performances. And loved him in In The Loop, great loss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    A sad day indeed, my girlfriend and I are just fininshing season 6 of the Soprano's - the man was an acting genius, as someone mentioned earlier we also watched "killing them softly" and thought it was damn good, like everyone we're gutted. Sincere condolances to his family and friends

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    If you have never watched The Sopranos - Do yerself a favour. Get it, sit down and watch it. Make it the next TV series you see. SUPERB.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    He died leaving a seminal tv show that will be watched by thousands for years. Regardless of 'he had it coming, he was overweight'. Everyone dies, so will you, however much you think going to the gym will save you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    I have watched him in a few films but the way he played Tony Soprano was just genius. What a talent, great actor.

    I'm genuinely sad at his passing. Rest in peace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    So sad to hear of Mr Gandolfini’s death. He will go down in history as one of the greatest TV actors.
    What a great actor and I only wish we could have seen him in much more. RIP Jimmy. Legend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Pure and simply one of the greatest ever character actors of all time - mesmerising, brave, intuitive and totally addictive to watch. In the same league as Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day Lewis and (in their early careers) Brando, Nicholson, De Niro and Pacino.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    What a shock. I saw The Sopranos on first run and immediately saw it was a great piece of television - well written, imaginative, and with complex ideas and storylines. But it wouldn't have been so good without Mr Gandolfini, who produced a three-dimensional "family" man, that carried a ring of truth throughout, especially as despite all Dr Melfi's therapy ultimately Tony didn't change.


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