R.I.P. James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini, the three-time Emmy winning actor best known for portraying mob boss Tony Soprano with surprising heart and humour, has died while holidaying in Italy. He was 51 years old.

Gandolfini arrives on the red carpet for the film "Violet & Daisy" during Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto

Gandolfini’s representatives confirmed his passing on Wednesday evening, though they did not state a cause of death.

HBO’s initial statement suggested he succumbed to a heart attack.

Though Gandolfini led HBO’s hit series The Sopranos from 1999 to 2007, he also had a storied career in cinema and on the stage.

His first major film role came in Tony Scott’s True Romance, which was followed by bit parts in Crimson Tide, Get Shorty, The Juror, and A Civil Action.

It was only when the little known character actor was cast as the troubled Tony Soprano – beating out Anthony LaPaglia and eventual co-star Steve Van Zandt for the part – that he became a household name.

Following that series’ infamous ending, he appeared (and made lasting impressions) in the comedy In The Loop, mournful kids movie Where the Wild Things Are, hitman flick Killing Them Softly, and the controversial Zero Dark Thirty, in which he played the director of the C.I.A.

Most notable about these roles is how they differed from the imposing Tony Soprano; a potential albatross that could have seen a lesser actor typecast for the rest of their career.

Instead, he flexed his comedic muscles; apparent to those who followed Tony’s often darkly humourous trials in the New Jersey underworld, but unknown to those who only recognised him as the brooding figure from those Annie Leibovitz cast photos.

Since the show’s end, he also produced two documentaries on returned American soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, and scored a Tony nomination for appearing in the Broadway production of God of Carnage.

The Sopranos show creator David Chase had this to say of Gandolfini: “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.”

He is survived by his wife, Deborah, son Michael, and eight-month-old daughter Liliana.

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