James Gandolfini, star of the HBO drama “The Sopranos” and a New Jersey native, died Wednesday at age 51 from a likely heart attack while on holiday in Rome attending the Taormina Film Festival, HBO said.
Born in Westwood, N.J., Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge and went to Rutgers University.
He cut his teeth in the NYC theater scene, debuting on Broadway in a 1992 production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” His first major movie role was in 1993’s “True Romance.”
But it wasn’t until his portrayal of Tony Soprano on “The Sopranos,” a landmark show which premiered in 1999, that he attained superstar status. Gandolfini’s dark, brooding Tony Soprano, the head of a mob family, earned him three Emmys for Best Actor in a Drama.
Since the show ended its run in 2007, Gandolfini has appeared in a number of big-screen roles, including the espionage thriller “Zero Dark Thirty” and the comedy “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.”
At the time of his death, Gandolfini had been working on an upcoming HBO series called “Criminal Justice.”
In a statement, HBO said it was 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,” read the statement.
“Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us,” the statement said.
Gandolfini’s managers, Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders, said in a joint statement that their “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,” they said.