LOS ANGELES, June 19, 2013 — As mob boss Tony Soprano we learned to love actor James Gandolfini, whose portrayal of the often slovenly boss on the “The Sopranos” showed us a kinder, gentler mobster. One that could be brutal, but who was also fraught with the same frailties as any man with a family, well two families, to take care of.
Gandolfini’s genius was in creating a character that became the center cog on what has remained as one of TV’s greatest drama series, lasting in the hearts and memories of fans well past its final show in 2007.
With David Chase and an ensemble of actors that included wife Carmela (Edie Falco), protégé Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) and Ton Sirico as Paulie Walnuts, “The Sopranos” created television history and a new genre of dramatic series.
A fan favorite was the unexpected casting of musician “Little Steven” van Zandt (the guitarist from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) as mob consigliere Silvio Dante.
The actor died Wednesday in Rome, Italy on holiday. Sources have told the New York Daily News he suffered a massive heart attack or stroke while on his way to the Taormina Film Festival, where he was expected to participate. James Gandolfini was 51 (September 18, 1961 - June 19, 2013).
The New Jersey-bred actor was known for his burly size and ability to fill a room, or a role. He was known by millions of female fans for his expressive and soft eyes.
“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,” said Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders, the actor’s managers.
HBO management, in expressing sympathy for the family said that James Gandolfini 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.”
An in demand actor, Gandolfini’s film credits include “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Killing Them Softly” as well as in the 1995 film “Get Shorty.” Tony Soprano was not his first mobster role. In the 1994 film “Terminal Velocity” Gandolfini played a violent Russian mobster that hid behind the persona of an insurance salesman. In the 1996 film “The Juror” he played a mob enforcer, and in “The Taking of Pelham 123” (2003) he filled the role of mayor of New York.
We at the USO are deeply saddened to hear of USO tour vet James Gandolfini’s passing. pic.twitter.com/6HPjHYYubk— USO (@the_USO) June 20, 2013
Not contained by the film, Gandolfini walked onto the Broadway stage in 2009 with Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden in a celebrated production of “God of Carnage,” where he earned a Tony Award nomination for best actor.
Other stage appearances include “On the Waterfront” with David Morse (1992).
An active supporter of serving and veteran soldiers, Gandolfini began working behind the camera, producing “Alive Day: Home from Iraq” (2007) with HBO and “Wartorn: 1861-2010” which explored post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its effect throughout the history of America.
It was his role in “The Sopranos” that made James Gandolfini a street-recognizable name. He embraced the bulky mobster who could not contain his excessive behaviors, whether wine, women or whacking the enemy; he opened up to us as a therapy patient and beleaguered father, brother, son and husband.
Since the ending of the David Chase series, Gandolfini acted in comedies such as “In the Loop,” a political satire, and the heartwarming drama “Welcome to the Rileys,” which costarred Kristen Stewart.
He voiced the Wild Thing Carol in “Where the Wild Things Are.”
The actor once famously said: “The older I get, the funnier-looking I get, the more comedies I’m offered. I’m starting to look like a toad, so I’ll probably be getting even more soon.”
In a December 2012 interview with The Associated Press, Gandolfini said he gravitated to acting as a release, a way to get rid of 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 said last year. “I’m getting older, too. I don’t want to be beating people up as much. I don’t want to be beating women up and those kinds of things that much anymore.”
Gandolfini is survived by his wife Deborah Lin and a young daughter, Liliana Ruth Gandolfini, born October 10, 2012, as well as his son, Michael with ex-wife Marcy Wudarksi. Gandolfini is also survived by his sister Johanna Antonacci.
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