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'The Sopranos' actor James Gandolfini, 51, dies of cardiac arrest in Italy

By Lynn Elber

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 20 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

FILE - This 1999 file photo provided by HBO, shows James Gandolfini as mob boss Tony Soprano, in an episode from the first season of the HBO cable television mob series, "The Sopranos." HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51.

HBO, Anthony Neste, File, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — James Gandolfini's lumbering, brutish mob boss with the tortured psyche will endure as one of TV's indelible characters.

But his portrayal of criminal Tony Soprano in HBO's landmark drama series "The Sopranos" was just one facet of an actor who created a rich legacy of film and stage work in a life cut short.

Gandolfini, 51, who died Wednesday while vacationing in Rome, refused to be bound by his star-making role in the HBO series that brought him three Emmy Awards during its six-season run.

"He was a genius," said "Sopranos" creator David Chase. "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."

Dr. Claudio Modini, head of the emergency room at the Policlinic Umberto I hospital in Rome, said Gandolfini suffered a cardiac arrest. He arrived at the hospital at 10:40 p.m. (2040 GMT, 4:40 p.m. EDT) Wednesday and was pronounced dead at 11 p.m. after resuscitation efforts in the ambulance and hospital failed, Modini said.

Modini told The Associated Press that an autopsy would be performed starting 24 hours after the death, as required by law.

Michael Kobold, a family friend, told reporters in Rome that a family member discovered Gandolfini in his hotel room, but he declined to say whom. NBC quoted Antonio D'Amore, manager of Rome's Boscolo Exedra hotel, as saying it was Gandolfini's 13-year-old son, Michael.

Organizers of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily were scrambling to put together a tribute to Gandolfini, who had been expected to attend the festival's closing ceremony this weekend and receive an award. They said Gandolfini will instead be honored with a tribute "remembering his career and talent."

Mario Sesti and Tiziana Rocca said they had spoken to Gandolfini hours before his death "and he was very happy to receive this prize and be able to travel to Italy."

Edie Falco, who played Tony Soprano's wife Carmela on "The Sopranos," remembered him as a "man of tremendous depth and sensitivity."

"I am shocked and devastated by Jim's passing," she said in a statement. "I consider myself very lucky to have spent 10 years as his close colleague. My heart goes out to his family. As those of us in his pretend one hold on to the memories of our intense and beautiful time together. The love between Tony and Carmela was one of the greatest I've ever known."

Joe Gannascoli, who played Vito Spatafore on the drama series, said he was shocked and heartbroken.

"Fifty-one and leaves a kid — he was newly married. His son is fatherless now. ... It's way too young," Gannascoli said.

Gandolfini and his wife, Deborah, who were married in 2008, have a daughter, Liliana, born last year, HBO said. Michael is the son of the actor and his former wife, Marcy.

Gandolfini's performance in "The Sopranos" was his ticket to fame, but he evaded being stereotyped as a mobster after the drama's breathtaking blackout ending in 2007. In a December 2012 interview with The Associated Press, he was upbeat about the work he was getting post-Tony Soprano.

"I'm much more comfortable doing smaller things," Gandolfini said then. "I like them. I like the way they're shot; they're shot quickly. It's all about the scripts — that's what it is — and I'm getting some interesting little scripts."

He played then-CIA director Leon Panetta in Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden hunt docudrama "Zero Dark Thirty." He worked with Chase for the '60s period drama "Not Fade Away," in which he played the old-school father of a wannabe rocker. And in Andrew Dominick's crime flick "Killing Them Softly," he played an aged, washed-up hit man.

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