James Gandolfini headshot
(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.
After the show ended its run in 2007 with an elliptical finale, Gandolfini continued his relationship with the network, producing a documentary about veterans of the Iraq War and last year's Hemingway & Gellhorn, about the life of author Ernest Hemingway. He was also set to co-star in Criminal Justice, a new drama for which a pilot episode had been shot. And he played the protagonist's dad in Not Fade Away, Chase's feature-film debut about a 1960s New Jersey garage band that was released last December.
In 2009, Gandolfini hit Broadway in the Tony Award-winning comedy God of Carnage. He also recently appeared in the films Zero Dark Thirty -- in which he played the director of the CIA -- and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
He is survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, and a son, Michael, and a baby daughter.