Multiple sources, including the New York Times and the New York Daily News are reporting the death of James Gandolfini, who achieved iconic status as America’s favorite television mobster in HBO’s popular series, The Sopranos, which aired from 1999 through 2007. The Daily News reports that the 51 year old New Jersey-born actor “died following a massive heart attack in Italy,” according to a source close to the actor.
Deadline Hollywood adds:
Overweight, balding, rough around the edges with a thick New Jersey accent, Gandolfini was the opposite of a marquee leading man, destined to be a character actor, and yet he proved through his masterful acting that he could make Tony Soprano sexy and smart, towering and powerful. his portrayal was one of TV’s largest-looming TV anti-heroes — the schlub we loved, the cruel monster we hated, the anxiety-ridden husband and father we wanted to hug when he bemoaned, “I’m afraid I’m going to lose my family. Like I lost the ducks.” In the most maddening series finale in recent history – an episode chock full of references to mortality (life, death, a William Butler Yeats reference to the apocalypse, a bathroom reference to a “Godfather” bloodbath) — his was the show’s last image, seen just as the words “Don’t stop” were being sung on the jukebox. It generated such extreme reaction that the series’ fans crashed HBO’s website for a time that night trying to register their outrage that it ended with a black screen, leaving them not knowing whether Tony Soprano had been whacked. In large part to Gandolfini’s charisma (“Jimmy was the spiritual core of our Sopranos family,” Chris Albright noted today), that Season 5 of The Sopranos in 2004 remains the most watched series in HBO history with 14.4 million viewers on average.
“I thought it was a wonderful script,” Mr. Gandolfini told Newsweek in 2001, recalling his audition. “I thought, ‘I can do this.’ But I thought they would hire someone a little more debonair, shall we say. A little more appealing to the eye.”
Fortunately for both HBO and us, Gandolfini got the part, and will live on in Hollywood mobster immortality, an apt successor to the gangster roles that made legends of Edward G. Robinson, Brando, Pacino and the ensemble cast of Goodfellas, which inspired The Sopranos.