James Gandolfini has died at the age of 51 while vacationing in Rome,Italy—according to Variety, he may have suffered from a heart attack.
HBO has released a statement saying, “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." And former HBO exec/current Starz CEO Chris Albrecht commented on the loss as well: “Jimmy was the spiritual core of our Sopranos family, and I am stunned at this devastating loss. He was a great talent, but an even better man." He told Deadline he was "absolutely stunned. I got the word from Lorraine Bracco and just got off with Brad Grey who had just heard from David Chase. We had all become a family. This is a tremendous loss.”
David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, said, "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 Deborah and 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."
The New Jersey-bred actor—best known for his role on The Sopranos (he won three Emmys), though also a natural on the Broadway stage—had most recently been working on HBO's Criminal Justice, CBS's Taxi 22, and Animal Rescue, which is now in post-production. He was in Chase's directorial debut, Not Fade Away and recently appeared in Zero Dark Thirty.
While he later lived in Tribeca, Gandolfini was born in Westwood, New Jersey, and grew up in Park Ridge, he later graduated from Rutgers (NJ.com has a story from his time in the dorms there). NJ Sen. Robert Menendez called him "a proud NJ native." Governor Chris Christie added:
James Gandolfini’s passing is an awful shock. He was a fine actor, a Rutgers alum and a true Jersey guy.
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) June 20, 2013
Here he is on Inside The Actors Studio in 2004—when James Lipton asked him, "if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say at the pearly gates?" He replied: "Take over for a while, I'll be right back."
He is survived by his wife, Deborah Lin (who he married in 2008), a son and a baby daughter.