June 20, 2013

Friend: Stricken Gandolfini found by family member

It isn't yet known yet what caused his heart to stop beating. An autopsy will be performed 24 hours after his death, as required by Italian law.

The Associated Press

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Gandolfini also worked with Chase for the '60s period drama "Not Fade Away," in which he played the old-school father of a wannabe rocker. And in Andrew Dominick's crime flick "Killing Them Softly," he played an aged, washed-up hit man.

Brad Pitt, his co-star in that film, called him "a ferocious actor, a gentle soul and a genuinely funny man. I am fortunate to have sat across the table from him and am gutted by this loss. I wish his family strength and some semblance of peace."

On Broadway, he garnered a best-actor Tony Award nomination for 2009's "God of Carnage."

Deploying his unsought clout as a star, Gandolfini produced a pair of documentaries for HBO focused on a cause he held dear: veterans affairs.

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 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."

The U.S. Embassy in Rome, which said it had learned about the death from the media, said it would be available to provide a death certificate and help prepare Gandolfini's body for return to the United States. The Embassy said it can take between four and seven days to arrange shipment outside of Italy.

It isn't yet known yet what caused his heart to stop beating. Sudden cardiac arrest can be due to a heart attack, a heart rhythm problem, or as a result of trauma. The chance of cardiac arrest increases as people get older; men over age 45 have a greater risk.

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