Sopranos actor James Gandolfini dies aged 51

James Gandolfini, the renowned actor who portrayed one of television’s greatest characters, has died at the age of 51.

The New Jersey-born actor, best known for his award-winning role as crime boss Tony Soprano in the acclaimed HBO series The Sopranos, suffered from a heart attack which occurred yesterday while holidaying in Italy. He was due to attend the Taormina film festival in Sicily until his tragic death.

HBO confirmed the passing before delivering their own tribute to Gandolfini in a statement.

“We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family. He was a 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 humour, 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.”

Born in 1961 to Italian-born parents, Gandolfini started his working life as a truck driver, a bouncer and then a nightclub manager before finally deciding to become an actor. His first acting gig was to come in 1992 when he starred alongside Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange in the Broadway adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire.

His screen debut eventually came the following year when he played a brutal hitman in Tony Scott’s cult-thriller True Romance before going on to star in other 90s features such as Crimson Tide (1995), Get Shorty (1995) and the TV production of 12 Angry Men (1997).

But it was his iconic performance as flawed mafia boss Tony Soprano which made him a household name when the mob series ran from 1999 to 2007.

The character’s struggles with his relatives, henchmen and psychiatrist proved to be the catalyst of the show’s success and helped to create a new type of anti-hero. Gandolfini was recognised for his work on the show with a Golden Globe and three Emmy Awards.

Whilst making the series, he featured prominently on the big-screen in 2001 when he starred in The Mexican, The Man Who Wasn’t There and The Last Castle.

When The Sopranos did come to an end, he had another consistent year in 2009 when he appeared as General Miller in Armando Iannucci’s political-satire In the Loop as well as having roles in The Taking of Pelham 123 and Where the Wild Things Are. He later starred in Sopranos creator David Chase’s directional debut Not Fade Away and the crime-thriller Killing Them Softly (2012).

Rather fittingly, one of his last screen roles saw him share a couple of scenes with Jessica Chastain in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning thriller Zero Dark Thirty (2012). He was due to star in HBO’s new series Criminal Justice but that looks likely to be affected by the late actor’s death.

Gandolfini is survived by his wife Deborah Lin and two sons.

His death is devastating to many who loved The Sopranos (including me and my sister) and it is thanks to his physical presence and huge charisma as Tony that made him renowned especially with the impact he made on television. RIP big guy!

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