James Gandolfini’s lumbering, brutish mob boss with the tortured psyche will endure as one of TV’s indelible characters.
However, 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.
Gandolfini, 51, who died on 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,” Sopranos creator David Chase said. “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.”
Claudio Modini, head of the emergency room at the Policlinic Umberto I hospital in Rome, said Gandolfini arrived at the hospital at 10:20pm on Wednesday and was pronounced dead at 11pm after resuscitation efforts in the ambulance and hospital failed.
Modini said that an autopsy would be performed starting 24 hours after the death, as required by law. 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 and receive an award.
Organizers Mario Sesti and Tiziana Rocca said Gandolfini will be honored with a tribute “remembering his career and talent.”
They said they spoke 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.
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.
He played former US secretary of defense Leon Panetta in Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden hunt docudrama Zero Dark Thirty. He worked with Chase for the 1960s period drama Not Fade Away, in which he played the old-school father of a wannabe rocker. In Killing Them Softly, he played an aged, washed-up hit man. On Broadway, he garnered a best-actor Tony Award nomination for 2009’s God of Carnage.