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Obituary: James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini

Obituary by Jack Foley

JAMES Gandolfini, the US actor best known for his role as Mob boss Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, has died at the age of 51.

Gandolfini suffered a possible heart attack while on holiday in Rome. He had reportedly been in Italy to attend a film festival in Sicily.

His managers, Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders, said in a statement on Wednesday night (June 19, 2013): It is with immense sorrow that we report our client James Gandolfini passed away today while on holiday in Rome, Italy. Our hearts are shattered and we will miss him deeply.”

HBO, which also produced The Sopranos, said he would be “deeply missed”.

A statement said: “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 humour, his warmth and his humility.”

Born in 1961 in Westwood, New Jersey, to a school dinner lady and a bricklayer-turned-school caretaker, both of Italian background, Gandolfini didn’t always want to become an actor.

He graduated with a degree in communications from New Jersey’s Rutgers University and then moved to New York to find work first as a bartender and then as a club manager.

However, he turned to acting to overcome anger issues, which he revealed during an interview in 2012 with the Associated Press. He recalled that he didn’t know what was making him angry but found acting to be thereapeutic.

Having made that decision, he got his big acting break in 1992 when he landed a part in a Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, which was swiftly followed by a notable supporting role in Tony Scott’s True Romance (playing a Mobster who took a relish in beating up Patricia Arquette’s heroine).

He then made a habit of scene stealing with roles in Crimson Tide (another Tony Scott film), Get Shorty (playing a stuntman) and Night Falls on Manhattan (alongside Andy Garcia).

But in 1999 he made his debut in the TV series that was to transform him into a household name and a cultural icon.

New Jersey Mafia boss Tony Soprano was manner from heaven for the actor, who displayed both menace and vulnerability as the therapy-seaking sociopath. The show ran for eight years and saw Gandolfini win three Emmys and a Golden Globe. It was recently named as the best written show in American TV history.

Ceated by David Chase, it remains an all-time classic that regularly attracts thousands of visitors during re-runs (it can currently be seen on Sky Atlantic).

Chase was among those who paid tribute, hailing Gandolfini as a “genius” and adding: “He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes.”

His co-star, Lorraine Bracco, who played Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist Dr Jennifer Melfi, added: “We lost a giant today. I am utterly heartbroken.”

Gandolfini continued to find movie and stage work in and around The Sopranos with further notable roles coming on Broadway in God of Carnage in 2009, for which he was nominated for a Tony theatre award.

He also stole the show from Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts in The Mexican (playing a gay hitman) and drew widespread acclaim for his performances in films as diverse as In The Loop, Zero Dark Thirty, Welcome To The Rileys and – last year – Killing Them Softly, which again saw him working with Pitt.

Gandolfini is survived by his second wife, Deborah Lin, a former model from Hawaii, whom he married in 2008, and their daughter, Liliana, who was 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 but split three years later.

Another tribute was paid by Jeff Daniels, who shared the stage with him in God of Carnage. He said: “If Broadway has a version of a guy you want in your foxhole, Jim Gandolfini was mine.”