James Gandolfini, who will forever be remembered as Tony Soprano on The Sopranos, has died at the age of 51. According to HBO, the cause of death is believed to be a heart attack. The actor was apparently on vacation in Italy at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife Deborah Lin and their 8-month-old daughter.
The New Jersey-born actor first garnered attention for enforcer/tough guy roles in True Romance, Get Shorty, and other films in the late 1990s before finally breaking out in 1999, using his imposing physicality and a grounded, tough, and layered style to fully inhabit Tony Soprano, a role that won him 3 Emmy awards.
After The Sopranos came to a close in 2007, Gandolfini seemingly took an active role in cultivating a diverse and rich resume, mixing independently minded films like In the Loop, Welcome to the Rileys, and Not Fade Away (which served as Sopranos‘ creator David Chase’s feature directorial debut) with authoritative roles in larger films like The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and Zero Dark Thirty. He also appeared on Broadway with the 2009 Tony nominated performance in God of Carnage.
A committed supporter of The Wounded Warrior Project, Gandolfini also made two documentaries – 2007’s Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq and 2010’s Wartorn: 1861-2010 – that focused on wounded soldiers and posttraumatic stress disorder for HBO.
Gandolfini’s relationship with HBO, which included Hemingway and Gellhorn (which the actor produced) and Cinema Verite (which he starred in), was set to continue with Criminal Justice, a 7-episode event series adaptation of Peter Moffat’s UK original. In the series, Gandolfini was set to star as Jack Stone, an attorney. Gandolfini was also developing Big Dead Place and Eating With the Enemy: How I Waged Peace With North Korea From My BBQ Shack in Hackensack with HBO, and he was set to produce the Taxi-22 adaptation over at CBS.
Obviously – and secondarily – those projects may all be in doubt due to this loss, but with a great many of us intellectually doubled over, it goes without saying that everything comes into perspective at a moment like this, where a 51-year-old man is gone, a daughter is without her father, a wife is without her husband, and an audience is without a magnetized presence that seized every opportunity to make us remember him.
As I said, James Gandolfini will forever be remembered as Tony Soprano. Not for playing a mobster, but for being that man, for transforming into him, and for – as the adage goes – “turning a television into a window,” a window through which we could watch him seduce, frighten, and amaze us.
An icon, with an ocean of accomplishment and an undeniable legacy as one of our best actors; our thoughts and prayers go out to James Gandolfini’s loved ones.
In Memoriam: James Gandolfini, September 18, 1961 – June 19, 2013
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