James Gandolfini, the actor who made the ruthless mob boss Tony Soprano one of the great television characters of all time, is dead at age 51. The New Jersey-bred actor reportedly died of a massive heart attack while in Italy.
Gandolfini was a character actor with supporting roles in films including Get Shorty and 12 Angry Men when he was cast in 1999 as the lead in The Sopranos, David Chase’s dramatic series for HBO about a suburban Mafioso in therapy. The show made him a star, earning him three Emmy awards for outstanding lead actor in a drama series. By the time the show finished its sixth and final season in 2007, Gandolfini was earning a reported million dollars per episode.
As brutal as Tony Soprano could be, by all accounts Gandolfini was a gentle giant in real life. He used his status with HBO to produce two documentaries on the high cost of war: Alive Day: Home From Iraq and Wartorn: 1861-2010. Since concluding The Sopranos, Gandolfini had been selective about subsequent roles, appearing in Where the Wild Things Are, Zero Dark Thirty and Not Fade Away, Chase’s feature film directorial debut.
Last October Gandolfini became the father of a baby girl with his wife, Deborah Lin, whom he married in Hawaii in 2008. He also fathered a son in a previous marriage. “It is a dark, dark world,” he once said. “I still think I’m very lucky to be in it.”