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In what is certainly shocking and very sad news, actor James Gandolfini has passed away today. Reports state that the 51-year-old actor died today in Italy of a suspected heart attack. Gandolfini is best known for his starring role on HBO's The Sopranos, which earned him several Golden Globe and Emmy Awards and nominations.
Deadline writes that the actor was in Italy when he passed and that he "died suddenly" of a suspected heart attack. TMZ says he was in Italy for the 59th Taormina Film Festival in Sicily and he was supposed to participate in a festival event this weekend.
Gandolfini's acting career goes back to the 80's, with an uncredited role in The Last Boy Scout among his earliest listed credits. After that, he played roles in a number of features, including True Romance, Angie, Get Shorty, The Juror and a TV version of 12 Angry Men. But he didn't hit it big until the late 90s, when he was cast as lead character Tony Soprano for The Sopranos, an HBO drama that would set the standard for original dramas at the premium cable channel, and make Gandolfini a household name.
One of the things that worked so well about Tony Soprano was that he was a dark character with a likable side. We've seen that blend of characteristics in a number of great TV shows in the years since The Sopranos' run. Among the great antiheroes of modern television, Tony Soprano ranks highly and may very well top the list. Much of the credit there goes to Gandolfini's ability to bring humanity and likability to a character who sometimes did bad things. He could go from charming and attractive to intimidating and scary with seeming ease.
In the years since The Sopranos finished up, Gandolfini went back to feature work, with roles in Zero Dark Thirty and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone among his recent credits. It was also looking like we might see him back on television - and HBO - however, the pilot in which he starred, Criminal Justice, didn't go to series at HBO.
His death is truly a loss to the entertainment industry, and given his age, it's sure to be a shock for fans. But he won't soon be forgotten.