Yahoo Movies
Please enable Javascript

Javascript needs to be enabled in your browser to use Yahoo Movies.

Here’s how to turn it on: https://help.yahoo.com/kb/enable-javascript-browser-sln1648.html

Actor James Gandolfini dies in Italy at age 51

FILE - This file photo released by HBO in 2007 shows James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in a scene from one of the last episodes of the HBO dramatic series "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, Craig Blankenhorn, File)FILE - This file photo released by HBO in 2007 shows James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in a scene from one of the last episodes of the HBO dramatic series "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, Craig Blankenhorn, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — James Gandolfini's lumbering, brutish mob boss with the tortured psyche will endure as one of TV's indelible characters.

But his portrayal of criminal Tony Soprano in HBO's landmark drama series "The Sopranos" was just one facet of an actor who created a rich legacy of film and stage work in a life cut short.

FILE - This Sept. 10, 2000 file photo shows actor James Gandolfini with his award for outstanding lead in a drama series for his work in "The Sopranos" at the 52nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Gandolfini, whose portrayal of a brutal, emotionally delicate mob boss in HBO's "The Sopranos" helped create one of TV's greatest drama series and turned the mobster stereotype on its head, died Wednesday, June 19, 2013 in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, file)FILE - This Sept. 10, 2000 file photo shows actor James Gandolfini with his award for outstanding lead in a drama series for his work in "The Sopranos" at the 52nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Gandolfini, whose portrayal of a brutal, emotionally delicate mob boss in HBO's "The Sopranos" helped create one of TV's greatest drama series and turned the mobster stereotype on its head, died Wednesday, June 19, 2013 in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, file)

Gandolfini, 51, who died Wednesday while vacationing in Rome, refused to be bound by his star-making role in the HBO series that brought him three Emmy Awards during its six-season run.

"He was a genius," said "Sopranos" creator David Chase. "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."

FILE - This 1999 file photo released by HBO shows actor James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in the critically acclaimed HBO series "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, Anthony Nesta, file)FILE - This 1999 file photo released by HBO shows actor James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in the critically acclaimed HBO series "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, Anthony Nesta, file)

Dr. Claudio Modini, head of the emergency room at the Policlinic Umberto I hospital in Rome, said Gandolfini arrived at the hospital at 10:20 p.m. (2020 GMT, 4:20 p.m. EDT) Wednesday and was pronounced dead at 11 p.m. after resuscitation efforts in the ambulance and hospital failed.

Modini told The Associated Press that an autopsy would be performed starting 24 hours after the death, as required by law.

FILE - This undated publicity image released by HBO shows, from left, Tony Sirico, Steven Van Zandt, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Vicint Pastore,from the HBO drama series "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, Anthony Neste, file)FILE - This undated publicity image released by HBO shows, from left, Tony Sirico, Steven Van Zandt, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Vicint Pastore,from the HBO drama series "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, Anthony Neste, file)

Organizers of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily were scrambling to put together a tribute to Gandolfini, who had been expected to attend the festival's closing ceremony this weekend and receive an award. Organizers Mario Sesti and Tiziana Rocca said Gandolfini will instead be honored with a tribute "remembering his career and talent."

FILE - This undated file photo provided by HBO shows James Gandolfini, as Tony Soprano, right, and Lorraine Bracco, as Dr. Jennifer Melfi, from a scene from the fourth season of "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, File)FILE - This undated file photo provided by HBO shows James Gandolfini, as Tony Soprano, right, and Lorraine Bracco, as Dr. Jennifer Melfi, from a scene from the fourth season of "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, File)

Sesti and Rocca said they had spoken to Gandolfini hours before his death "and he was very happy to receive this prize and be able to travel to Italy."

Joe Gannascoli, who played Vito Spatafore on the drama series, said he was shocked and heartbroken.

"Fifty-one and leaves a kid — he was newly married. His son is fatherless now. ... It's way too young," Gannascoli said.

FILE - This Jan. 23, 2000 file photo shows actors Edie Falco, left, and James Gandolfini with their awards for best performance by an actress and actor in a dramatic televison series for "The Sopranos," during the 57th Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, file)FILE - This Jan. 23, 2000 file photo shows actors Edie Falco, left, and James Gandolfini with their awards for best performance by an actress and actor in a dramatic televison series for "The Sopranos," during the 57th Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, file)

Gandolfini and his wife, Deborah, who were married in 2008, have a daughter, Liliana, born last year, HBO said. The actor and his former wife, Marcy, have a teenage son, Michael.

Gandolfini's performance in "The Sopranos" was his ticket to fame, but he evaded being stereotyped as a mobster after the drama's breathtaking blackout ending in 2007.

FILE - In this July 12, 2007 file photo, James Gandolfini, executive producer and interviewer for HBO's Iraq War documentary "Alive Day Memories," smiles during the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)FILE - In this July 12, 2007 file photo, James Gandolfini, executive producer and interviewer for HBO's Iraq War documentary "Alive Day Memories," smiles during the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

In a December 2012 interview with The Associated Press, he was upbeat about the work he was getting post-Tony Soprano.

"I'm much more comfortable doing smaller things," Gandolfini said then. "I like them. I like the way they're shot; they're shot quickly. It's all about the scripts — that's what it is — and I'm getting some interesting little scripts."

FILE - This Sept. 13, 2008 file photo shows actor James Gandolfini and his wife Deborah Lin at the 2008 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, file)FILE - This Sept. 13, 2008 file photo shows actor James Gandolfini and his wife Deborah Lin at the 2008 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, file)

He played Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden hunt docudrama "Zero Dark Thirty." He worked with Chase for the '60s period drama "Not Fade Away," in which he played the old-school father of a wannabe rocker. And in Andrew Dominick's crime flick "Killing Them Softly," he played an aged, washed-up hit man.

FILE - This 1999 file photo provided by HBO, shows James Gandolfini as mob boss Tony Soprano, in an episode from the first season of the HBO cable television mob series, "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, Anthony Neste, File)FILE - This 1999 file photo provided by HBO, shows James Gandolfini as mob boss Tony Soprano, in an episode from the first season of the HBO cable television mob series, "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO, Anthony Neste, File)

On Broadway, he garnered a best-actor Tony Award nomination for 2009's "God of Carnage."

Deploying his unsought clout as a star, Gandolfini produced a pair of documentaries for HBO focused on a cause he held dear: veterans affairs.

He was mourned online in a flood of celebrity comments. "The great James Gandolfini passed away today. Only 51. I can't believe it," Bette Midler posted on her Twitter account.

FILE - This 2007 file photo originally supplied by HBO, shows James Gandolfini, left, Steven Van Zandt and Tony Sirico, right, members of the cast of the HBO cable television mob drama "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO,Craig Blankenhorn)FILE - This 2007 file photo originally supplied by HBO, shows James Gandolfini, left, Steven Van Zandt and Tony Sirico, right, members of the cast of the HBO cable television mob drama "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/HBO,Craig Blankenhorn)

"An extraordinary actor. RIP, Mr. Gandolfini," Robin Williams tweeted.

His final projects included the film "Animal Rescue," directed by Michael R. Roskam and written by Dennis Lehane, which has been shot and is expected to be released next year. He also had agreed to star in a seven-part limited series for HBO, "Criminal Justice," based on a BBC show. He had shot a pilot for an early iteration of the project.

Chris Carley, owner of Holsten's ice cream parlor, where the last show of the HBO series "The Sopranos" was filmed, moves a jukebox to display a sign reading "this booth is reserved for the Soprano Family," Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Bloomfield, N.J. The booth was put on reserve as a way to honor the passing of actor James Gandolfini. The actor, whose portrayal of a brutal, emotionally fragile mob boss helped create one of TV's greatest drama series and turned the mobster stereotype on its head, died Wednesday in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)Chris Carley, owner of Holsten's ice cream parlor, where the last show of the HBO series "The Sopranos" was filmed, moves a jukebox to display a sign reading "this booth is reserved for the Soprano Family," Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Bloomfield, N.J. The booth was put on reserve as a way to honor the passing of actor James Gandolfini. The actor, whose portrayal of a brutal, emotionally fragile mob boss helped create one of TV's greatest drama series and turned the mobster stereotype on its head, died Wednesday in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

While Tony Soprano was a larger-than-life figure, Gandolfini was exceptionally modest and obsessive — he described himself as "a 260-pound Woody Allen."

In past interviews, his cast mates had far more glowing descriptions to offer.

"I had the greatest sparring partner in the world, I had Muhammad Ali," said Lorraine Bracco, who, as Tony's psychiatrist Dr. Melfi, went one-on-one with Gandolfini in their penetrating therapy scenes. "He cares what he does, and does it extremely well."

Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge in New Jersey, the son of a building maintenance chief at a Catholic school and a high school lunch lady.

After earning a degree in communications from Rutgers University, Gandolfini moved to New York, where he worked as a bartender, bouncer and nightclub manager. When he was 25, he joined a friend of a friend in an acting class.

Gandolfini's first big break was a Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" where he played Steve, one of Stanley Kowalski's poker buddies. His film debut was in Sidney Lumet's "A Stranger Among Us" (1992).

Director Tony Scott, who killed himself in August 2012, had praised Gandolfini's talent for fusing violence with charisma — which he would perfect in Tony Soprano.

Gandolfini played a tough guy in Scott's 1993 film "True Romance," who beat Patricia Arquette's character to a pulp while offering such jarring, flirtatious banter as, "You got a lot of heart, kid."

Scott called Gandolfini "a unique combination of charming and dangerous."

In his early career, Gandolfini had supporting roles in "Crimson Tide" (1995), "Get Shorty" (1995), "The Juror" (1996), Lumet's "Night Falls on Manhattan" (1997), "She's So Lovely" (1997), "Fallen" (1998) and "A Civil Action" (1998). But it was "True Romance" that piqued the interest of Chase.

In his 2012 AP interview, Gandolfini said he gravitated to acting as a release, a way to get rid of anger. "I don't know what exactly I was angry about," he said.

"I try to avoid certain things and certain kinds of violence at this point," he said last year. "I'm getting older, too. I don't want to be beating people up as much. I don't want to be beating women up and those kinds of things that much anymore."

___

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers David Bauder, John Carucci, Jake Coyle and Frazier Moore in New York; Nicole Winfield in Rome, and Shaya Tayefe Mohajer and Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles.