James Gandolfini died suddenly today after a suspected heart attack while in Rome to attend the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily.
James Joseph Gandolfini, Jr. was born on September 18, 1961 in Westwood, New Jersey. His parents were devout Roman Catholics and spoke Italian at home. Due to such influence, Gandolfini had a strong sense of being Italian, and regularly visited Italy. Gandolfini was introduced to acting as a young man living in New York City, when he accompanied a friend, actor Roger Bart, to a Meisner technique acting class. In 2003, Gandolfini appeared in a series of television commercials, with Greg Schiano, promoting Rutgers football.
Gandolfini performed in a 1992 Broadway production of On the Waterfront for six weeks. One of his best-known film roles was that of Virgil, a brutal woman-beating mob enforcer, in the 1993 romantic thriller True Romance. Gandolfini said that one of his major inspirations for the role of Virgil, in True Romance, was an old friend of his, who was a hitman. In 1994 film Terminal Velocity, Gandolfini played Ben Pinkwater, a seemingly mild-mannered insurance man who turns out to be a violent Russian mobster. In Get Shorty (1995), he appeared as a bearded ex-stuntman with a Southern accent, and in The Juror (1996), he played a mob enforcer with a conscience. He played the Mayor of New York in the 2009 remake of The Taking of Pelham 123.
Gandolfini returned to HBO in 2007 as the executive producer of the Emmy-nominated documentary special, Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq, his first project after The Sopranos and the first production for his company Attaboy Films, which was opened in 2006 with producing partner Alexandra Ryan. He returned to the stage in 2009, appearing in Broadway's God of Carnage with Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels.
In June 2010, it was announced that Gandolfini would be executive producing an HBO film about Ernest Hemingway and his relationship with Martha Gellhorn, titled Hemingway & Gellhorn and starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman. Philip Kaufman directed the film, which was written by Barbara Turner and Jerry Stahl, and began shooting in 2011. Gandolfini reunited with Sopranos creator David Chase for Not Fade Away
Gandolfini's most acclaimed role was that of Tony Soprano, a New Jersey Mafia boss and family man who was the lead character in The Sopranos, which debuted in 1999. He won three Emmys for "Best Actor in a Drama" for his depiction of Soprano, who constantly questions his identity and purpose. Gandolfini eventually earned $1,000,000 per episode in the series, and Entertainment Weekly listed him as the 42nd Greatest TV Icon of All Time.
For this role, Gandolfini garnered enormous praise, winning both the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series three times. Gandolfini's other roles include the enforcer/stuntman Bear in Get Shorty, and the impulsive Wild Thing Carol in Where the Wild Things Are.
TV Guide ranked him 28 on its "50 Sexiest Stars of All Time" list in 2005.