Category: Media & Culture / June 20, 2013 4:46 PM EDT
James Gandolfini, the burly actor best known for his Emmy-winning portrayal of a conflicted New Jersey mob boss in the groundbreaking TV series "The Sopranos," died on Wednesday, June 19 while he was vacationing in Italy. He was 51.
Gandolfini, whose performance as Tony Soprano made him a household name and ushered in a new era of American television drama, had been scheduled to attend the closing of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily on Saturday, June 22.
He may have suffered a heart attack, Mara Mikialian, the spokeswoman for the HBO network that produced "The Sopranos," told Reuters.
Gandolfini shared Tony Soprano's Italian-American heritage and New Jersey roots, but the actor was known for a reserved demeanor off-camera and generally shied away from publicity.
Regulars to New York's Little Italy neighborhood said he was nothing like his character.
"Very, very nice man, very, very. Nothing at all like you would think he was in the series, from what I understand. You know, they all were, they all were very, very nice people," said James Bari, the owner of Benito One restaurant in Little Italy.
Brad Jones, a fan of "The Sopranos" is still trying to comprehend the news.
"Actually as we walked by the Mulberry Street Bar, they always have a picture James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano. And we walked by and just stopped and looked. It's still kind of a shock, you know?"
Numerous screens for the show were shot at the bar, resulting in the establishment being nicked named the "Sopranos Bar."
Victor Vallone works in the lower Manhattan neighbor was shocked to learn of his death.
"I mean he's young, very young. I mean, what did he die of a heart attack? I was surprised, very surprised," said Vallone.
The actor was taken from his Rome hotel to the city's Umberto I general hospital where staff found his heart had already stopped at about 11 p.m. local time (5 p.m. EDT), a hospital spokesman said.
Since "The Sopranos" ended its six-season run in June 2007, Gandolfini appeared in a number of big-screen roles, including "Zero Dark Thirty," a film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the crime drama "Killing Them Softly."
Gandolfini began his career as a stage actor in New York and went on to earn a Tony nomination for his role in the original 2009 Broadway cast of the black comedy "God of Carnage" and three Emmy Awards as best lead actor in "The Sopranos."
Video Credit: Reuters