June 20, 2013

James Gandolfini, 'Sopranos' star, dies at 51

An effortless killer in 'The Sopranos,' the actor is called 'a special man, a gentle and loving person.'

By Lynn Elber / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

James Gandolfini
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James Gandolfini said he gravitated to acting as a way to get rid of anger. I don’t know what exactly I was angry about.” His first big break was a Broadway production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” While Tony Soprano was larger than life, Gandolfini was exceptionally modest.

1999 HBO file photo

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This Sept. 10, 2000 file photo shows actor James Gandolfini with his award for outstanding lead in a drama series for his work in "The Sopranos" at the 52nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, file)

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A COMPLICATED CHARACTER EXPLORED

A supporting actor for years, James Gandolfini vaulted to fame in 1999 as Tony Soprano, the north New Jersey mafia chieftain who sought counseling for panic attacks under the everyday pressures of raising a family and the stresses of life in organized crime. The series highlighted his vulnerabilities as a father and brutality as a mob boss.

The role gave him a chance to explore a complicated a criminal mind that transcended the characters that traditionally populate cime dramas. Frequently conflicted by his behavior and actions, Tony Soprano routinely cheated on his wife, bumped off disloyal captains and confessed his fears to a therapist played by Lorraine Bracco.

The series finale, which aired on June 10, 2007, and drew 11.9 million viewers, left fans to ponder Tony's fate. In the last scene, as the Soprano family gathered for a family meal at a restaurant, the screen suddenly went black - a sign, some said, that Tony had been rubbed out by one of his many accumulated enemies.

Series creator David Chase offered no additional clarity. "I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting or adding to what is there," Chase said in an interview published in New Jersey's Star-Ledger.

Gandolfini's role on "The Sopranos" won him a Golden Globe and three Emmy awards during the show's six seasons from 1999 to 2007, according to IMDB.com. The series was twice awarded Emmys for outstanding drama. 

-- Bloomberg

"An extraordinary actor. RIP, Mr. Gandolfini," Robin Williams tweeted.

His final projects included the film "Animal Rescue," directed by Michael R. Roskam and written by Dennis Lehane, which has been shot and is expected to be released next year. He also had agreed to star in a seven-part limited series for HBO, "Criminal Justice," based on a BBC show. He had shot a pilot for an early iteration of the project.

While Tony Soprano was a larger-than-life figure, Gandolfini was exceptionally modest and obsessive — he described himself as "a 260-pound Woody Allen."

In past interviews, his cast mates had far more glowing descriptions to offer.

"I had the greatest sparring partner in the world, I had Muhammad Ali," said Lorraine Bracco, who, as Tony's psychiatrist Dr. Melfi, went one-on-one with Gandolfini in their penetrating therapy scenes. "He cares what he does, and does it extremely well."

Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge in New Jersey, the son of a building maintenance chief at a Catholic school and a high school lunch lady.

After earning a degree in communications from Rutgers University, Gandolfini moved to New York, where he worked as a bartender, bouncer and nightclub manager. When he was 25, he joined a friend of a friend in an acting class.

Gandolfini's first big break was a Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" where he played Steve, one of Stanley Kowalski's poker buddies. His film debut was in Sidney Lumet's "A Stranger Among Us" (1992).

Director Tony Scott, who killed himself in August 2012, had praised Gandolfini's talent for fusing violence with charisma — which he would perfect in Tony Soprano.

Gandolfini played a tough guy in Scott's 1993 film "True Romance," who beat Patricia Arquette's character to a pulp while offering such jarring, flirtatious banter as, "You got a lot of heart, kid."

Scott called Gandolfini "a unique combination of charming and dangerous."

In his early career, Gandolfini had supporting roles in "Crimson Tide" (1995), "Get Shorty" (1995), "The Juror" (1996), Lumet's "Night Falls on Manhattan" (1997), "She's So Lovely" (1997), "Fallen" (1998) and "A Civil Action" (1998). But it was "True Romance" that piqued the interest of Chase.

In his 2012 AP interview, 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."

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Additional Photos

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In this undated file photo, James Gandolfini and Edie Falco of the HBO drama series "The Sopranos," are shown. Gandolfini, the star of 'The Sopranos', is dead at 51.

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This 2007 photo, supplied by HBO, shows James Gandolfini, left, Steven Van Zandt and Tony Sirico, right, members of the cast of the HBO cable television mob drama "The Sopranos" during their final season. Gandolfini, star of 'The Sopranos', dead at 51

AP/HBO

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This 1999 file photo released by HBO shows actor James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in the critically acclaimed HBO series "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, Anthony Nesta, file)

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his Jan. 23, 2000 file photo shows actors Edie Falco, left, and James Gandolfini with their awards for best performance by an actress and actor in a dramatic televison series for "The Sopranos," during the 57th Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, file)

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This undated publicity photo, released by HBO, shows actor James Gandolfini in his role as Tony Soprano, head of the New Jersey crime family portrayed in HBO's "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, Barry Wetcher, File)

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This file photo released by HBO in 2007 shows James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in a scene from one of the last episodes of the HBO dramatic series "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, Craig Blankenhorn, File)



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