James Gandolfini, the barrel-chested actor forever known to millions of TV fans as mobster Tony Soprano on the HBO series "The Sopranos," has died at the age of 51.
"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, who confirmed that the actor passed away while on vacation in Rome, Italy.
HBO also released a 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."
Though he also starred in films like "Get Shorty" and "True Romance," it was the iconic role of the soul-searching wiseguy on "The Sopranos" that earned Gandolfini fame and accolades. Over the course of the show's six seasons, he picked up three Emmy Awards for lead drama actor and the series was named the greatest television series of all time by the Writers Guild of America earlier this month.
His charismatic performance as a conflicted mafioso paved the way for the current crop of antihero dramas that includes "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad" and "Boardwalk Empire."
Like the character he played, Gandolfini was a native son of New Jersey with strong ties to the old world. His father, James, was born in Borgotaro, Italy, and his mother, Santa, was American-born and raised in Italy.
After "The Sopranos," Gandolfini stayed busy with a variety of film and theater projects, starring on Broadway in 2009 in "God of Carnage" and in movies that tended to trade on his tough-talking image, including "Zero Dark Thirty," "In the Loop" and "Not Fade Away," from "Sopranos" creator David Chase.
He also returned several times to his creative home at HBO, producing the biopic "Hemingway & Gellhorn" and the documentary "Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq," and starring in "Cinema Verite," about the Loud family.
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