It has been reported that James Gandolfini, star of the television series Sopranos, has died age 51 while on holiday in Italy.The Emmy-winning star of The Sopranos reportedly died from what is thought to be a heart attack while in Italy, where he was attending the Taormina Film Festival, HBO confirmed Wednesday.
James Joseph Gandolfini, Jr. was born on Sept. 18, 1961 in Westwood New Jersey. He grew up in Park Ridge, New Jersey and graduated from Park Ridge High School in 1979, where he played basketball and acted in school plays. He was awarded the title “Class Flirt” in his senior yearbook.
Gandolfini held a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies from Rutgers University, where he worked as a bouncer at an on-campus pub. Before he started on his acting career, Gandolfini also worked as a bartender and club manager. The young Gandolfini was introduced to acting while living in New York City when he went with his actor friend, Roger Bart, to a Meisner technique acting class.
The Sopranos actor started working in films in 1987. But it wasn’t until he was cast in the HBO series as Tony Soprano, a New Jersey Mafia boss and family man who was the lead character in the show, that the actor became a household name. He won three Emmys for “Best Actor in a Drama” for his depiction of Soprano, who constantly questions his identity and purpose. Gandolfini eventually earned $1,000,000 per episode in the series, and Entertainment Weekly listed him as the 42nd Greatest TV Icon of All Time.
After the show finished in 2007, Gandolfini continued his relationship with HBO and produced a documentary about veterans of the Iraq War and last year’s Hemingway & Gellhorn, about the life of author Ernest Hemingway. He was also set to co-star in Criminal Justice. And he played the part of Pat in Not Fade Away, David Chase’s big screen debut about a 1960s New Jersey garage band that was released last December.
In 2009, Gandolfini went to Broadway to perform in the Tony Award winning comedy, God of Carnage.
He just recently worked in two films, Zero Dark Thirty where he played the director of the CIA, and he played Doug Munny in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
But Gandolfini will always be Tony Soprano to his legion of fans and it was through playing a thug in the 1993 Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino film True Romance that got him noticed for the part of Tony. James’ character in the Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette film had to throw Arquette through a glass shower door. It was his performance that that caught the attention of David Chase, who wanted an unknown actor to play the head of the Soprano family.
In an 2007 interview with Vanity Fair, Gandolfini related how he laughed the first time he read the script. He said, “I laughed my ass off. I was like, This is really different and good, and odd. I thought, I’ve never been the lead before. They’re gonna hire somebody else. But I knew I could do it. I have small amounts of Mr. Soprano in me. I was 35, a lunatic, a madman.”
In his private life, Gandolfini was a family man like his alter ego Tony Soprano. He married his wife Deborah after having dated her for two years. On August 30, 2008, Gandolfini married the former model in her hometown of Honolulu, Hawaii. The couple had daughter, Liliana Ruth Gandolfini, who was born October 10, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Gandolfini also had a son, Michael, with his ex-wife, Marcy Wudarski, who he was divorced in December 2002.
James Gandolfini was on a leisurely holiday travelling across Italy where he was expected to attend the Taormina Film Festival on June 20 for an onstage event with Italian director Gabriele Muccino on June 22. He was in Rome when he apparently died from a heart attack at the age of 51. He is survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, his son Michael,and 8-month-old Liliana Ruth his daughter.
By Michael Smith