James Gandolfini, who left in indispensable mark on the new Golden Age of TV in the role of tortured mob boss Tony Soprano, died in Italy Wednesday at the age of 51.
Dr. Claudio Modini of the Policlinic Umberto I hospital in Rome said Gandolfini suffered cardiac arrest. After being rushed to the hospital at 10:40 p.m. resuscitation efforts failed and Gandolfini was pronounced dead at 11:00 p.m.
Gandolfini was discovered in his hotel room by a family member, but it’s not known exactly whom. Antonio D’Amore, manager of Rome’s Boscolo Exedra hotal, has been quoted as saying it was Gandolfini’s 13-year-old son, Michael.
Gandolfini was in Italy to receive an award at and attend the closing ceremony of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily this weekend. Organizers of the event said that “he was very happy to receive this prize and be able to travel to Italy,” and also that Gandolfini will be honored instead with a tribute “remembering his career and talent.”
Gandolfini was a well-traveled actor by the time he shot to fame in 1999 with the program, which earned him six Emmy Awards during the show’s six-year run, Gandolfini also left behind a rich legacy of film and stage work in a tragically-shortened life.
“He was a genius,” said “Sopranos” creator David Chase of Gandolfini. “Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of genius resided in those sad eyes.”
Gandolfini was an actor who also refused to be limited by his star-making role as Tony Soprano. After the show’s breathtaking blackout finale in 2007, Gandolfini successfully evaded being typecast as a mobster, and was upbeat about the work he did afterward. These included roles as then-CIA director Leon Panetta in “Zero Dark Thirty,” the old-school father of a wanna-be rocker in the David Chase ’60s period drama “Not Fade Away,” and an aged, washed-up hit man in Andrew Dominick’s crime film “Killing Them Softly.”
Gandolfini also garnered accolades on Broadway, earning a best-actor Tony Award nomination for 2009’s “God of Carnage.” Also using his star clout, Gandolfini produced a pair of HBO documentaries about veterans affairs, a cause close to him.
Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge, New Jersey, earned a communications degree from Rutgers University, then worked as a bartender, bouncer, and nightclub manager in New York. Gandolfini discovered acting at 25, had his first big break in a Broadway production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and made his film debut in Sidney Lumet’s 1992 film “A Stranger Among Us.”