James Gandolfini dies at 51
Mr. Gandolfini’s death was confirmed by HBO. He was traveling in Rome, where he was on vacation and was scheduled to attend the Taormina Film Festival. A cause of death was not immediately announced; a press representative for HBO said that Mr. Gandolfini may have died from a heart attack, though other news reports said he died from a stroke.
Mr. Gandolfini, who grew up in Park Ridge, in Bergen County, N.J., came to embody the resilience of the Garden State on “The Sopranos,” a television drama that made its debut in 1999 and ran for six seasons on HBO.
In its pilot episode, viewers were introduced to the richly complicated life of Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mob kingpin who is suffering from panic attacks and begins seeing a therapist. Over 86 episodes, audiences followed Mr. Gandolfini in the role as he was tormented by his mother (played by Nancy Marchand), his wife (Edie Falco), rival mobsters, the occasional surreal dream sequence and, in 2007, a famously ambiguous series finale which left millions of viewers wondering whether or not Tony Soprano had met his fate at the table of a diner.
The success of “The Sopranos” helped make HBO a dominant player in the competitive field of scripted television programming, and transformed Mr. Gandolfini from a character actor into a star. The series, created by David Chase, won two Emmy Awards for outstanding drama series, and Mr. Gandolfini won three Emmys for outstanding lead actor in a drama, having been nominated six times for the award.
HBO said of Mr. Gandolfini in a statement on Wednesday, “He was 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.”
James Joseph Gandolfini Jr. was born in Westwood, N.J., on Sept. 18, 1961. His father was an Italian immigrant who held a number of jobs, including janitor, bricklayer and cement mason. His mother, Santa, was a high school lunch lady.
He attended Park Ridge High School in New Jersey and Rutgers University, graduating in 1983 with a degree in communications. He drove a delivery truck, managed nightclubs and tended bar in Manhattan before becoming interested in acting at age 25 when a friend brought him to an acting class.
He began his movie career in 1987 with a small role in the low-budget horror comedy “Shock! Shock! Shock!” In 1992 he had a small part in the Broadway revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange.
By the mid-1990s Mr. Gandolfini had made gangster roles a specialty, playing burly but strangely charming tough guys in films like “True Romance” (1993) and “The Juror” (1996). He had an impressive list of character-acting credits but he was largely unknown to the general public when David Chase cast him in “The Sopranos” in 1999.
“I thought it was a wonderful script,” Mr. Gandolfini told Newsweek in 2001, recalling his audition. “I thought, ‘I can do this.’ But I thought they would hire someone a little more debonair, shall we say. A little more appealing to the eye.”
Survivors include his wife, Deborah Lin; a daughter, Liliana, born last year; and a teenage son, Michael, from his marriage to Marcella Wudarski, which ended in divorce.