20 Jun 2013

Sopranos star James Gandolfini dies

9:43 pm on 20 June 2013

James Gandolfini, the American actor best known for his role as a therapy-seeking mob boss in televison's The Sopranos, has died.

The 51-year-old suffered a possible heart attack while on holiday in Rome with his wife and young daughter. He was in Italy to attend a film festival in Sicily.

Gandolfini won three Emmy awards and a Golden Globe for his role as Tony Soprano, a mafia boss juggling his criminal career and family life, the BBC reports.

In a statement, HBO said the star of The Sopranos, which ran for six series on the cable channel from 1999 to 2007, would be "deeply missed".

"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."

James Gandolfini was born in 1961 in Westwood, New Jersey, to a school dinner lady and a bricklayer-turned-school caretaker, both of Italian background.

He graduated with a degree in communications from New Jersey's Rutgers University. Then he moved to New York, finding work as a bartender and a club manager before he went to an acting class with a friend and got hooked.

"I'd also never been around actors before," he told TIME magazine, "and I said to myself, 'These people are nuts; this is kind of interesting.'"

His acting career took off in 1992 when he landed a part in a Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, but the breakthrough role came a year later playing a mobster in the movie True Romance.

His more recent film credits included Zero Dark Thirty, In The Loop, Zero Dark Thirty and Killing Them Softly. He was nominated for a Tony theatre award in 2009 for his role in the Broadway hit God of Carnage.

James Gandolfini is survived by his second wife, Deborah Lin, a former model from Hawaii, whom he married in 2008, and their daughter, Liliana, born last year. He also leaves a teenage son, Michael, from his first marriage to Marcy Wudarski, his former personal assistant. They wed in 1999 but split three years later.

Former American television host Larry King told CNN that Gandolfini was essentially a character actor who found the perfect part.