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Tributes pour in over shock death of Sopranos star at age of just 51

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James Gandolfini. Photo: PA Wire

James Gandolfini. Photo: PA Wire

James Gandolfini. Photo: PA Wire

SOPRANOS star James Gandolfini (51) was on holidays in Rome with his 14-year-old son when he died from a suspected heart attack.

He was spending "quality time" with his young son Michael before he was to make a scheduled appearance at the 59th Taormina Film Festival in Sicily over the weekend.

Sources said his reasons for visiting Italy were for both "business and pleasure", including a "guy's trip" to Rome for himself and his young son.

Michael (14) is Gandolfini's son from his first marriage to Marcy Wudarski, who flew to Rome to be with her young boy upon hearing of James' death.

Friends of the actor say father and son were "very tight". Michael is an ice hockey fan, and both were regulars at the LA Kings home games.

Gandolfini is survived by his second wife Deborah Lin whom he married to 2008. She gave birth to their daughter Liliana last year.

genius

Irish actresses Saoirse Ronan and Eve Hewson recently worked on separate film projects with the Hollywood star.

Oscar-nominated Saoirse filmed Violet & Daisy with Gandolfini in 2011, where she played a teenage assassin and he, her intended target whom she ends up sympathising with as he is dying alone in his apartment of terminal cancer.

The Carlow native described James as "the best" to work with when they filmed the black comedy two years ago.

"He's so cool and I think when he came on set everyone was aware that Tony Soprano was there, just because of the kind of force Jim is," she explained. "He's the nicest guy and he was so protective over me and really looked after me.

"I loved the scenes that I had with him – these scenes with long dialogue we had together. It was just a great experience getting to work with an actor like that who really doesn't take any of the bull at all, he's very much about work and that's the main thing for him."

Meanwhile, up-and-coming actress and Bono's daughter Eve Hewson has also wrapped filming with the legendary star, playing his daughter.

The untitled Nicole Holofcener project is a comedy, scheduled for release later this year.

Meanwhile, tributes have been pouring in for the actor.

His portrayal of a brutal, emotionally fragile mob boss in HBO's The Sopranos helped create one of TV's greatest drama series and turned the mobster stereotype on its head.

"He was a genius," said Sopranos creator David Chase.

"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."

Gandolfini played mob boss Tony Soprano in the groundbreaking series that aired from 1999 to 2007.

angry

He won three Emmy awards for his role as the bulky mobster who was a therapy patient, family man and cold-blooded killer.

HBO called the actor 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." The channel expressed sympathy for his wife and children.

"I had the greatest sparring partner in the world, I had Muhammad Ali," said Lorraine Bracco, who, as Tony's psychiatrist Dr Melfi in The Sopranos, went one-on-one with Gandolfini in their penetrating therapy scenes. "He cares what he does, and does it extremely well."

After the series concluded with a breathtaking ending that left viewers guessing, Gandolfini's varied film work included the Osama bin Laden hunt thriller Zero Dark Thirty and comedies such as In the Loop, a political satire.

He voiced the Wild Thing Carol in Where The Wild Things Are and in the crime flick Killing Them Softly he played an aged, washed-up hit man.

Gandolfini also shared a Broadway stage in 2009 with Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden in a celebrated production of God Of Carnage, where he earned a Tony Award nomination for best actor. He also was in On The Waterfront with David Morse.

In a 2012 interview, a rare chat for the star who avoided the spotlight, Gandolfini said he gravitated to acting as a release, a way to get rid of anger. "I don't know what exactly I was angry about.

"I try to avoid certain things and certain kinds of violence at this point," he said. "I'm getting older, too. I don't want to be beating people up as much."

He grew up in New Jersey, the son of a building maintenance chief and a school cafeteria worker.

After earning a degree in communications, Gandolfini moved to New York, where he worked as a barman, bouncer and nightclub manager. When he was 25, he joined a friend of a friend in an acting class.

Gandolfini's first big break was a Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire where he played Steve, one of Stanley Kowalski's poker buddies. His film debut was in Sidney Lumet's A Stranger Among Us in 1992.

hnews@herald.ie


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