James Gandolfini, Getty Images
Cindy Clark and Gary Levin, USA TODAY
James Gandolfini, who personified the New Jersey mobster in HBO's acclaimed series The Sopranos, died Wednesday, apparently of a heart attack, while on vacation in Rome, the network said. He was 51.
"We're all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family," the network said in a statement. "He was 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. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us."
Gandolfini had been expected to appear at the Taormina Film Festival on Thursday, reports Variety.
The beefy actor, who played Mob patriarch Tony Soprano in the award-winning drama that ran for six seasons, had small film and theater roles when he was cast by David Chase in the drama, which became the network's top-rated series soon after premiering in 1999. He was a New Jersey native with deep Italian roots; both his parents were born and raised there.
Gandolfini won three Emmy Awards as best actor in the role, played opposite Edie Falco's Carmela, and helped establish the network's reputation as a home for edgy, complex series.
Gandolfini recently had roles in films Zero Dark Thirty and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Gandolfini's current projects included Fox Searchlight's Animal Rescue, HBO's Criminal Justice and the CBS show Taxi 22.
He is survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, and a son, Michael.