Award-winning US actor James Gandolfini, the burly star of classic TV mafia drama The Sopranos, died Wednesday aged 51 in Italy, triggering a flood of tributes from the acting world and beyond.

The New Jersey-born actor, who won three Emmys and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of troubled mob boss Tony Soprano on the HBO series, suffered a heart attack according to media reports.


“It is with immense sorrow that we report our client, James Gandolfini, passed away today while on holiday in Rome, Italy,” said a joint statement from his California-based managers, Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders.

Gandolfini was in Italy for the Taormina Film Fest in Sicily, where he was expected to participate in a roundtable discussion with Italian director Gabriele Muccino this weekend, according to TMZ.

Tributes poured in from fellow actors and colleagues, including The Sopranos creator David Chase, who called Gandolfini a “genius.”

“Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that,” he said. “He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes.”

From the acting world Steve Carrell, who starred with Gandolfini in this year’s comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, said it was “unbelievably sad news.”

Susan Sarandon called him “one of the sweetest, funniest, most generous actors I’ve ever worked with,” Jonah Hill said it was a “tragic loss,” and Mia Farrow called him “a great actor. Just great.”

HBO, the cable TV channel on which The Sopranos aired, issued a statement saying: “We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family.”

The actor had a long film and stage career before lending his heavy stature and big grin to play a depressed mafioso in The Sopranos, the celebrated series that ran from 1999 to 2007.

He began acting in the New York theater, making his Broadway debut in the 1992 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire with Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin.

His breakthrough role came as a hitman in Tony Scott’s 1993 True Romance, which he followed with She’s So Lovely (1997), 8MM (1999), The Mexican (2001), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) and In the Loop (2009).

Last year, Gandolfini played former CIA director Leon Panetta in the Oscar-winning Osama bin Laden manhunt movie Zero Dark Thirty, while his last big-screen movie was The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

He was also a television producer for HBO, notably making the TV movie Hemingway & Gellhorn last year, a romantic drama with Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as war correspondent Martha Gellhorn.

HBO managers praised the actor as “a 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,” their statement added.

Gandolfini is survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, whom he married in 2008, and their nine-month old daughter, Liliana, according to the LA Times. He had a son, Michael, with his first wife, Marcy Wudarski. – AFP RELAX NEWS