Taken from us too soon: James Gandolfini dead at 51

James Gandolfini
James Gandolfini

Actor James Gandolfini, best known for playing “Tony Soprano” on the hit HBO series The Sopranos has died suddenly in Italy.  He was only 51 years old.

Born in New Jersey, learned to speak Italian from his parents who were both raised there.  He visited Italy on a regular basis and reportedly was there at the time of his death to attend a film festival and a wedding.

He appeared in a few things but nothing of note until 1993 when he was cast in True Romance as a thug working for a crime boss portrayed by Christopher Walken.  That led to bigger roles in Crimson Tide and Get Shorty, and from there he landed the role that made him a household name.  He won three Primetime Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for his work as a mafia crime boss.  Meanwhile he continued to work on the big screen when not filming the TV series.

James Gandolfini and Delroy Lindo in a scene from 'Get Shorty'
James Gandolfini and Delroy Lindo in a scene from ‘Get Shorty’

In 2001, he moved up to better roles in The Mexican and second lead to Robert Redford in the disappointing The Last Castle.  As a gay hitman in The Mexican, his work led to a L.A. Outfest award for best performance in a supporting role.  In The Last Castle, he was spot on as the emotionally tortured warden of a military prison.  Though he never really became a leading man, he continued to work steadily in good supporting roles while making The Sopranos, and afterward.  Other films he was in include Surviving Christmas, the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, and Where the Wild Things Are.  Last year he had roles in Zero Dark Thirty and Killing Them Softly, and his last big-screen appearance to this point was in the recent The Incredible Burt Wonderstone as a casino mogul.  There are other projects he was involved with that are still in process.

James Gandolfini and Edie Falco holding their Golden Globe awards
James Gandolfini and Edie Falco holding their Golden Globe awards

Gandolfini was a graduate of Rutgers University, and his first work as an actor was in commercials for the university.  He was a bouncer, bartender and club manager prior to becoming an actor, and is also known for producing two excellent documentary films on military veterans.  One was focused on Iraq War veterans and the other on the issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Gandolfini was married twice, most recently to Debra Win.  He is survived by her and their daughter, Liliana, and his son from his first marriage, Michael.

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