James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano on HBO’s The Sopranos, has died at age 51, reports Deadline.
His managers, Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders, said in a brief statement:
Our hearts are shattered and we will miss him deeply. He and his family were part of our family for many years and we are all grieving.
Here’s what you need to know about this legend and his passing …
1. Gandolfini Died in His Spiritual Home, Italy
Gandolfini reportedly died earlier today in Italy. The Daily News reports that Gandolfini suffered a “massive heart attack.”
He was scheduled to attend the Taormina Film Festival. TMZ reports that Gandolfini had been due to participate in the festival in Sicily with Italian director Gabriele Muccino. Also due to appear at the festival were Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe.
Variety reports that Gandolfini died in Rome, where he was attending a friend’s wedding, and he was due to arrive in Sicily on Thursday.
The Sopranos creator David Chase released the following statement on Gandolfini’s passing:
He was a genius. 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. I remember telling him many times, ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence at the other end of the phone. For [his wife Deborah Lin] and [children] Michael and Liliana this is crushing. And it’s bad for the rest of the world. He wasn’t easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can’t explain and never will be able to explain.
2. The Doctor Who Attempted to Revive Him Called His Death ‘Natural’
According to TMZ, there are no signs that Gandolfini was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of his death, nor did any substance play any part in his death. The doctor who pronounced Gandolfini dead, Professor Claudio Modini, said:
…probably a natural cause of death, myocardial infarction.
But toxicology tests on Gandolfini’s body are still pending.
Earlier it was reported that Gandolfini’s body was discovered by his 14-year-old son, Michael, who has just graduated the eighth grade.
Gandolfini and his son had been staying at the Boscolo Hotel Exedra (above) in Rome.
3. Most of the World Will Remember Him as Tony Soprano
Gandolfini will forever be synonymous with Tony Soprano, the character he played from 1998 to 2007. As the anti-hero, with mother issues, who regularly visits a psychiatrist, and also happened to be the boss of the mafia in New Jersey, Gandolfini was awarded three Emmys, while being nominated for six in total.
Entertainment Weekly named him the 42nd-greatest TV icon in 2007, they wrote at the time:
In the span of a single episode, the hulking actor could take menacing Mob boss Tony Soprano through rage, self-pity, love, and depression: He was a weekly how-to manual on Greek tragedy. Early on in The Sopranos’ revolutionary first season, Tony took a brief recess from his daughter’s college tour to hunt down and kill one of his enemies. This brutally revealed to the audience exactly who they were rooting for — a family man, yes, but also a cold-blooded killer.
His Sopranos co-star, Joseph R. Gannascoli, who played Vito on the show, told TMZ tonight:
James is one guy who never turned his back on me. He was the most humble and gifted actor and person I have ever worked with. He was a great man and I will forever be indebted to him.
When asked by the New York Times in 2010 if he was worried about being typecast due to his time in The Sopranos, he said:
Mostly it’s not a lot of that stuff anymore with shooting and killing and dying and blood, I’m getting a little older, you know. The running and the jumping and killing, it’s a little past me.
In addition to the three Emmys Gandolfini won, the show captured 21 Emmys in total during its nine year run. By the time the show finished its run he was earning $1 million per episode. The show’s producers, HBO, released the following statement:
We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family,” HBO said in a statement. “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. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us.
Gandolfini has said spoken about the difficulties he had with the fame the show generated for him:
It’s just a little odd for me, to get that slightly different treatment sometimes. And I’m uncomfortable with it. … I want nothing to do with privilege.
This is the scene tonight at Holstens in New Jersey, the restaurant that played host to the now famous final scene of the show.
— Steve Zanti (@spzanti) June 20, 2013
And of course, here is the famous scene:
4. His Wife Just Gave Birth to a Daughter in October 2012
Gandolfini’s wife Deborah Lin, had just given birth to their daughter, Liliana Ruth Gandolfini, in October 2012.
His manager Mark Armstrong announced the news, saying:
I am happy to confirm that James and Deborah Gandolfini are the proud parents of a happy and healthy baby girl,” Armstrong says in a statement. “Liliana Ruth Gandolfini was born in Los Angeles on Wednesday, October 10th, and weighed 7 lbs., 9 oz. … James and Deborah are thrilled and all are doing well.
5. Gandolfini is Survived by His Wife and Two Children
He had one daughter with Deborah and a son, Michael, from a previous marriage with Marcy Wudarski. Gandolfini filed for divorce from Wudarski in March 2002 after three years of marriage.
6. His Big Break Didn’t Come Till He Was 37
Gandolfini was a renowned character actor before his big break in the The Sopranos at age 37. He was known for movies such as True Romance, Get Shorty, In the Loop, Crimson Tide, A Civil Action, 8mm, Zero Dark Thirty and Killing Them Softly.
Prior to breaking into movies, Gandolfini performed for six months on Broadway as the good-hearted Mitch in an adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire alongside heavyweights like Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange, who assumed the leading roles in that production. In that show, his wife was played by Aida Turturro, who went on to play Tony Soprano’s brilliantly antagonistic sister, Janice, on The Sopranos.
Just prior to that he earned his Broadway stripes playing Terry Malloy in a production of On The Waterfront. It ended prematurely: “I got a call telling me I was fired for being too mouthy.”
In 2009, he made his long-awaited return to the stage in God of Carnage, for which he won a Tony Award.
True Romance director Tony Scott said about Gandolfini:
You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to spot someone who’s got that much talent. He’s such a unique combination of charming and dangerous, and it’s inherent in who he is.
Gandolfini didn’t begin acting until he was in his 20s. He was a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in communications. While at Rutgers his girlfriend of two years was killed in a car accident, something Gandolfini drew on for inspiration. He mentioned her during his 2003 Emmy acceptance speech, and the star told GQ in an interview:
I might not have done what I’ve done without her death.
He began attending Meisner acting classes with his friend, Roger Bart, in the 1980s in New York. About the classes he said:
I was scared to death, I couldn’t do it. I was so angry and so nervous at the same time.
He spoke about his early movie influences on Inside the Actor’s Studio:
The first movie I remember seeing and registering was West Side Story; when I saw that, I went, ‘Wow!’
While trying to make it as an actor in New York, he worked a bunch of different gigs, he told Vanity Fair in a 2009 interview:
Waiter, bartender, bouncer, nightclub manager, street bookseller — all kinds of stuff. I planted trees. I delivered seltzer for a business that was owned by a Hasidic Jew I loved.
7. His Ex-Wife Claimed Gandolfini Performed ‘Kinky Sex With Multiple Mistresses’
Another claim said Wudarksi compiled a list of:
more than two dozen names of those she believes James did drugs with, including a number of Sopranos buddies.
When these allegations became public, Gandolfini himself came forward about his own substance abuse problems. E! reported in 2002:
A statement from the star’s spokesman terms Gandolfini’s substance abuse as “a problem that existed in the past.”
“It’s something from years ago…that he’s taken care of,” rep Dan Klores said.
Earlier this week, in the New York Daily News, another Gandolfini flack said the actor, “to [the rep’s] knowledge,” had never been to rehab. The National Enquirer, citing court papers, said Gandolfini began, but did not complete, a 28-day rehab stint in 2000.
“To bring [up the drug problem] now, as an attempt to gain leverage and a better settlement during the divorce, is just reprehensible,” Klores said in the statement.
8. He Was About to Start Filming on a New Series for HBO
Gandolfini will play Jack Stone, a less than scrupulous attorney dressed in cheap suits and sandals, who trolls New York City police precincts for desperate clients. Stone stumbles upon an American-born Pakistani man named Naz (Rizwan Ahmed) in a holding cell and appoints himself Naz’s attorney.
9. Gandolfini Was a Real Jersey Boy
Just like Tony Soprano, Gandolfini was a New Jersey native, growing up in Park Ridge, Bergen County. His family were proud Italians and regularly made trips back to the old country, around the Naples region, where his character, Tony Sopranos’s ancestors were also from. According to Gandolfini, his parents would speak Italian only:
when they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about, so they didn’t it teach to my sisters or to myself.
His father worked as a bricklayer, laying the first bricks for Shea Stadium, according to Gandolfini, and later became a custodian at a Catholic High School in New Jersey. His mother was the head lunch lady at the same school.
His father was a World War II veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart for his services.
He once said: My father always said a million times, `We’re peasants.’
10. He Once Referred to Himself as a ‘260 Pound Woody Allen’
Gandolfini once said about the role of Tony Soprano:
I’m playing an Italian lunatic from New Jersey, and that’s basically what I am.
He later said in another interview:
And now I’m a 285-pound Woody Allen, I find it hard to relax. I live in New York.
Around the time that The Sopranos began its run, a neighbor banged on Gandolfini’s apartment door because the actor was making too much noise. Gandolfini answered and the man appeared shocked, he told the Associated Press:
So I opened the door and the guy just turns white, all of a sudden I realize, `Oh … he thinks I’m Tony.
Even after all of his career success he said:
All the fuss during The Sopranos really was pretty ridiculous. None of us expected it to last, and it lasted almost 10 years. Honestly? I don’t think I’m that different. I’ve lived in the same apartment for years. I’ve kept a lot of the same friends. I’m still grumpy and miserable.
Sopranos creator David Chase told GQ what he thought Gandolfini brought to the role of Tony Soprano:
Some of the turmoil that’s inside of Jim, that pain and sadness, is what he uses to bring that guy to the screen.