By Dave Nemetz | Yahoo! TV
Terrible news for TV fans: James Gandolfini, who played mobster Tony Soprano on HBO’s seminal drama “The Sopranos,” died suddenly today at the age of 51.
Gandolfini was traveling in Rome on vacation before a scheduled appearance at Sicily’s Taormina Film Festival when he fell ill; conflicting reports have him suffering either a heart attack or a stroke.
HBO confirmed his death in a statement: “We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family. He was a special man, a great talent, but more importantly a gentle and loving person who treated everyone no matter their title or position with equal respect. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth, and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us.”
Gandolfini won three Emmys, three SAG Awards, and one Golden Globe for his performance as Tony Soprano on the acclaimed HBO drama — a complex, sometimes villainous role that launched the current wave of TV antiheroes. “The Sopranos” remains HBO’s highest-rated series ever, with 13.4 million viewers tuning in for the Season 4 premiere in 2002.
“Sopranos” creator David Chase lauded Gandolfini in a statement: “He was a genius. 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. I remember telling him many times, ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence at the other end of the phone…He wasn’t easy sometimes. But he was my partner; he was my brother in ways I can’t explain and never will be able to explain.”
His “Sopranos” shrink, Lorraine Bracco, was stunned by the news, saying, “We lost a giant today. I am utterly heartbroken.” Tony Sirico, who played Tony’s right-hand man Paulie Walnuts, mourned the loss of “one of my best friends in life. He helped me with my career and I’m going to miss him. He’s part of my family.” And Steven Schirripa, who played Tony’s brother-in-law Bobby Bacala, added: “Jimmy was a dear friend and like a brother to me. He was a great actor and a great father. I will miss him terribly. I am very sad.”