James Gandolfini, star of the hit HBO series The Sopranos, has died at age 51. The actor suffered a heart attack in Rome, Italy, according to TMZ.
Gandolfini, born in Westwood, New Jersey, earned a degree in communications from Rutgers in 1983, turning to acting after brief stints as a bouncer, bartender, and club manager. He took classes at the famed Actors Studio and earned roles in school productions. Gandolfini made his Broadway debut in 1992, performing opposite Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin in A Streetcar Named Desire.
He had made a few minor appearances in films, and it was after his memorable role in 1993’s True Romance that he found steady work in Hollywood, appearing in such 1990s films as Get Shorty, Crimson Tide, and A Civil Action. More recent projects included roles in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and Zero Dark Thirty (in which he played CIA director Leon Panetta).
But it was a small-screen role — that of troubled crime family boss Tony Soprano — that catapulted Gandolfini to stardom and earned him every imaginable accolade. His work on The Sopranos, which ran from 1999 to 2007 and is widely regarded as one of the greatest television shows, won him three Emmys for “Best Actor in a Drama” and landed him a hefty salary that eventually paid him close to $1 million per episode.
He is survived by his wife Deborah Lin, whom he married in 2008, their infant daughter Liliana Ruth, and a son from a previous marriage.