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

LOS ANGELES — James Gandolfini's lumbering, brutish mob boss with the tortured psyche will endure as one of TV's indelible characters.

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

But his portrayal of criminal Tony Soprano in HBO's landmark drama series "The Sopranos" was just one facet of an actor who created a rich legacy of film and stage work in a life cut short.

Gandolfini, 51, who died Wednesday while vacationing in Rome, refused to be bound by his star-making role in the HBO series that brought him three Emmy Awards during its six-season run.

No cause of death was given by HBO and Gandolfini's managers Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders in a joint statement confirming his death.

Coroner Antonio Spasola at Rome's Policlinico Umberto I hospital, in the upscale Parioli neighborhood, declined to give a cause of death. Officials at the morgue confirmed that Gandolfini was brought there.

"He was a genius," said "Sopranos" creator David Chase. "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 that genius resided in those sad eyes."

HBO called the actor 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."

Organizers of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily were scrambling to put together a tribute to Gandolfini, who had been expected to attend the festival's closing ceremony this weekend and receive an award. Organizers Mario Sesti and Tiziana Rocca said Gandolfini will instead be honored with a tribute "remembering his career and talent."

Sesti and Rocca said they had spoken to Gandolfini hours before his death "and he was very happy to receive this prize and be able to travel to Italy."

Joe Gannascoli, who played Vito Spatafore on the drama series, said he was shocked and heartbroken.

"Fifty-one and leaves a kid — he was newly married. His son is fatherless now. ... It's way too young," Gannascoli said.

Gandolfini and his wife, Deborah, who were married in 2008, have a daughter, Liliana, born last year, HBO said. The actor and his former wife, Marcy, have a teenage son, Michael.

Gandolfini's performance in "The Sopranos" was his ticket to fame, but he evaded being stereotyped as a mobster after the drama's breathtaking blackout ending in 2007.

In a December 2012 interview with The Associated Press, he was upbeat about the work he was getting post-Tony Soprano.

"I'm much more comfortable doing smaller things," Gandolfini said then. "I like them. I like the way they're shot; they're shot quickly. It's all about the scripts — that's what it is — and I'm getting some interesting little scripts."

He played Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden hunt docudrama "Zero Dark Thirty." He 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.

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.

He was mourned online in a flood of celebrity comments. "The great James Gandolfini passed away today. Only 51. I can't believe it," Bette Midler posted on her Twitter account.

(Continued on page 2)

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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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