James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

Wow, talk about a bummer. According to a few different sources now, James Gandolfini has died after suffering a stroke while on vacation in Italy.

Three-time Emmy winner James Gandolfini has died in Italy at the age of 51 of a possible heart attack. According to HBO, he was on vacation at the time.  The “Sopranos” actor appeared recently in “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” He had been working on Fox Searchlight’s “Animal Rescue” and TV show “Criminal Justice” as well as “Taxi 22.”

He is survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, and a son. [Variety]

Gandolfini was in Italy to attend the 59th Taormina Film Festival in Sicily — and he was scheduled to participate in a festival event this weekend with Italian director Gabriele Muccino.

Gandolfini shot to fame playing a hitman in the 1993 hit “True Romance” … and quickly became a Hollywood legend when he was cast as Tony Soprano in 1999.  He won 3 Emmy awards for the role during the show’s 6 season run.

Gandolfini also appeared in a ton of huge movies including “Get Shorty,” “The Mexican” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”

We last spoke to Gandolfini in May in L.A. — he was in great spirits, making funny faces and joking about a “Sopranos” movie.

Gandolfini is survived by his wife Deborah Lin, who gave birth to the couple’s daughter in October 2012. He also has a teenage son from a previous marriage. R.I.P. [TMZ]

Obviously it’s a little early to write a full tribute and retrospective, so I’ll simply say that James Gandolfini was one of the hardest working character actors around, one of the best of the kinds of actors who don’t get nearly the respect they deserve for being as talented as they are. This even before he got the fame and critical acclaim from playing Tony on The Sopranos. He’s played a number of memorable roles, but more recently, if you haven’t gotten a chance to check him out in Killing Them Softly, definitely do. His work as a nihilistic hitman, where at least half of his performance involved different noisy breathing sounds was one of the most legitimately goddamned terrifying screen presences I’ve ever seen. On the other end of the spectrum, his work as the disapproving but loving father in Not Fade Away was similarly impeccable, in a completely different way (again, from his Sopranos director David Chase, who is incredible at writing father-son relationships). That he could be that terrifying, but also sort of wounded, vulnerable, loving, and fatherly like he was in the Sopranos proves what great actor he was. Not many people can pull off that combination. Big time bummer.

[picture via Shutterstock]