NEW YORK (PIX11) – Actor James Gandolfini is dead at 51 after suffering an apparent heart attack while in Italy, an HBO spokesperson confirmed Thursday.
The Sopranos star, who was born in Westwood, NJ, was on vacation in Rome. He was also scheduled to participate in the 59th Taormina Film Festival in Sicily, according to TMZ.
PIX11 has learned Gandolfini took his 13-year-old son with him, on the trip to Italy, as a school graduation present.
A source told PIX Gandolfini died while he was in the bathroom.
Gandolfini’s managers Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders issued this statement: “It is with immense sorrow that we report our client James Gandolfini passed away today while on holiday in Rome, Italy. Our hearts are shattered and we will miss him deeply. He and his family were part of our family for many years and we are all grieving.”
Gandolfini won 3 Emmy Awards during six seasons of playing “Tony Soprano”–a New Jersey mob boss–on the hit HBO series, “The Sopranos”.
His character worked in waste management, but what made the series unique was Tony’s interaction with his psychiatrist, portrayed by Lorraine Bracco. Tony was suffering from anxiety attacks, when the series started, and at one point, his own mother was going to have him whacked!
Sopranos creator David Chase remembered Gandolfini saying, “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. I remember telling him many times, ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart” There would be silence at the other end of the phone. For Deborah and Michael and Lilliana this is crushing. And it’s bad for the rest of the world. He wasn’t easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can’t explain and never will be able to explain.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said in a statement: “It’s an awful shock. James Gandolfini was a fine actor, a Rutgers alum and a true Jersey guy. I was a huge fan of his and the character he played so authentically, Tony Soprano. I have gotten to know Jimmy and many of the other actors in the Sopranos cast and I can say that each of them are an individual New Jersey treasure. Mary Pat and I express our deepest sympathies to Mr. Gandolfini’s wife and children, and our prayers are with them at this terrible time.”
Gandolfini leaves behind his wife, former model Deborah Lin, their baby daughter and his son from a prior marriage.
MARY MURPHY CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.