James Gandolfini Dead — Tony Soprano Actor Dies In Italy At 51
James, 51, was in Italy to attend the 59th Taormina Film Festival in Sicily. He was vacationing with his sister and 13-year-old son when he suffered the heart attack.
They returned to their hotel after sightseeing and eating dinner when James went into the bathroom and didn’t come out, a source tells the New York Post.
James’ sister went in and found him unconscious on the bathroom floor. She called an ambulance, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“Everyone is in tears,” a source close to the TV star tells the New York Daily News.
James’ first break came in 1992 when he landed a role in a Broadway version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Smaller parts in movies like Crimson Tide and Get Shorty soon followed. But fame came for the actor after 1999, as The Sopranos garnered critical acclaim and became a TV classic.
James won three Emmy awards for his portrayal of Tony Soprano in The Sopranos. Since the show went off the air in 2007, James has largely avoided the spotlight. However, he starred in Welcome To The Rileys with Kristen Stewart in 2010, among other movie roles.
Gandolfini was set to star in a seven-episode series titled Criminal Justice on HBO, playing low-rent lawyer Jack Stone.
Kevin O’Rourke: James Gandolfini Was A ‘Very Generous And Kind Guy’
HollywoodLife.com spoke to actor Kevin O’Rourke, who guest-starred with James in the first season of The Sopranos and maintained a friendship with him ever since. He told HollywoodLife.com exclusively:
“I met Jimmy on the first season of The Sopranos. He was a very generous and kind guy. I remember working with him on the very first day that we shot and he was shocked by the success of The Sopranos. He couldn’t have been nicer and he often talked to me about my career in theater because he was interested in theater too. He actually got his own big break when he was an understudy for the role of Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire. He blew people away with how he handled the role. And after that, he started getting offers for movies and TV roles.”
While most fans do know James as his on-screen counterpart, Tony Soprano, Kevin says he was nothing like the character.
“He wasn’t at all like Tony Soprano. He was very loyal to people because they were good actors or performers, not because it would improve his standing in Hollywood. He actually helped actors who were in the Screen Actor’s Guild. He came to meetings and he asked ‘What can I do as a man of my profile to help actors get what they need in these negotiations?’ He came because he wanted to help actors who were less fortunate than he was. That’s the kind of person he was.”
Kevin is currently playing the Mayor of Atlantic City in Boardwalk Empire.
HBO & James’ Management Release Statements
“It is with immense sorrow that we report our client James Gandolfini passed away today while on holiday in Rome, Italy. 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,” said his managers, Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders.
HBO said in a prepared statement:
“We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family. 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.”
David Chase, the producer that cast James in The Sopranos and worked with him on many projects, 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 Lilliana 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.”
James is survived by his wife, former model Deborah Lin, who gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Liliana Ruth Gandolfini, on October 10, 2012. The couple married in Hawaii in 2008. The legendary actor also has a teenage son, Michael, from a previous marriage.
James’ niece wrote on Facebook, “Everything is different my head in the clouds. Everything’s different just like that … I’m dizzy from all this spinning. Take me back to just before I was spinning take me back. It’s amazing what a minute can do.”
Vincent Curatola, who played John “Johnny Sack” Sacramoni on Sopranos, said, “We were together at Mohegan Sun in March and had a great time. I don’t know what happened. [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie just called me and said, ‘When they bring him home, we’ll do whatever his family needs,’ because he’s a Jersey boy.”
“Fifty-one and leaves a kid — he was newly married. His son is fatherless now . . . It’s way too young,” said Joe Gannascoli, who played fellow mobster Vito Spatafore on the show.
So sad. We can’t imagine what his family is going through right now. Our thoughts go out to James’ family and friends at this sad, difficult time.
— Chris Rogers, Reporting by Bonnie Fuller