Actor James Gandolfini dead at 51

Actor James Gandolfini, who rocketed to stardom with his Emmy-winning portrayal of a New Jersey mob boss on HBO's hit drama "The Sopranos," died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack while vacationing in Italy. He was 51.

"It is with immense sorrow that we report our client, James Gandolfini, passed away today while on holiday in Rome, Italy," according to a joint statement from his Santa Monica-based managers, Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders. "Our hearts are shattered and we will miss him deeply. He and his family were part of our family for many years and we are all grieving."

He had been scheduled to appear at a film festival in Sicily later this week.

The New Jersey-born actor began his career on stage before moving to the big screen with appearances in films such as "True Romance," "Mr. Wonderful," "Crimson Tide" and "Get Shorty."

But he became a Hollywood star in 1999 when he was cast as Tony Soprano in "The Sopranos," HBO's groundbreaking hit focused on a mob boss struggling to manage his crime family while keeping his real family intact. The series -- with Gandolfini portraying a violent crime boss at war with his own emotions as
he fought to maintain his marriage and raise two children -- became a cult favorite, continuing its successful run until 2007.

Gandolfini won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for his role. He won three Screen Actors Guild Awards for best actor in a drama, and shared two others for outstanding ensemble cast in a drama.

"We're all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family," according to a statement from HBO. "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.

"He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us."

David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos," called Gandolfini a "genius."

"Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that," Chase said. "He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times, 'You don't get it. You're like Mozart.' There would be silence at the other end of the phone.

"... He wasn't easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can't explain and never will be able to explain."

When "The Sopranos" ended its run, Gandolfini went on to appear in more films, including "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3," "Killing Them Softly," "In the Loop" and "Not Fade Away." He most recently appeared as director of the CIA in the Oscar-nominated "Zero Dark Thirty," and was seen in this year's comedy, "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone."

Steve Carell, who starred in "Burt Wonderstone," wrote on his Twitter page, "Unbelievably sad news. A fine man."

The SAG-AFTRA actors' union issued a statement calling Gandolfini "an extremely talented actor who was greatly admired by his peers. Despite his tough-guy persona on screen, he had a heart of gold and was an admirable human being who never stopped giving back to the community."

Gandolfini is survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, whom he married in 2008 and with whom he has an 8-month-old daughter, Liliana. He had a son, Michael, with his first wife, Marcy Wudarski.

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