James Gandolfini was an American actor born on September 18, 1961, in Westwood, New Jersey. He discovered acting in the late 1980s and made his Broadway debut in 1992. Gandolfini’s breakthrough came in the role of a mobster on the hit 1999 HBO television seriesThe Sopranos. During the show’s six-year run, James Gandolfini won numerous accolades, including a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Emmy. Gandolfini died in Italy after suffering a heart attack on June 19, 2013, at age 51.
James Joseph Gandolfini Jr. was born on September 18, 1961, in Westwood, New Jersey. Gandolfini grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Rutgers University. He discovered the stage after spending years as a Manhattan bouncer and nightclub manager. When a friend took him to an acting class in the late 1980s, he was left so unsettled and challenged by a focusing exercise that involved threading a needle that he knew he had to return.
Shortly thereafter, James Gandolfini immersed himself in the New York theater world. His Broadway debut came with the 1992 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire with Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin. His New York stage credits also include On the Waterfront, One Day Wonder with the Actor’s Studio and Tarantulas Dancingat the Samuel Beckett Theatre.
Gandolfini’s breakthrough screen role came with his portrayal of Virgil, the philosophizing hit man, in Tony Scott’s True Romance with Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette. He went on to play a diverse range of roles in more than 25 motion pictures over his decades-long career, including John Cusack’s brother in Money for Nothing, Geena Davis’s plumber boyfriend in Angie and a loyal Navy lieutenant in Crimson Tide. He also played a pivotal role in Steve Zaillian’s A Civil Action alongside John Travolta and Robert Duvall.
Gandolfini’s gift for shedding light on the vulnerable side of seemingly ruthless characters led to his starring role on the acclaimed HBO drama series The Sopranos. In 1999, Gandolfini won both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for his portrayal of Tony Soprano, a gangster having a midlife crisis. He also won the Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a drama series three times—in 2000, 2001 and 2003. Also in 2003, it was announced that The Sopranos would end after its sixth season.
James Gandolfini’s Later Roles
In 2004, James Gandolfini appeared in the DreamWorks’ comedy Surviving Christmas (2004) with Ben Affleck and the political drama All the King’s Men (2006) with Sean Penn. He also continued to work with HBO after The Sopranos ended in 2007, after signing a development deal with the cable channel and its film distribution company, Picturehouse, in August 2006.
Gandolfini began appearing on the big screen again in 2009. He starred in the action dramas The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and In the Loop, and became a voice in the live-action remake of the children’s book Where the Wild Things Are (2009).
In 2012, James Gandolfini appeared in the crime-thriller Killing Them Softly with Brad Pitt, and played a C.I.A. director in the acclaimed film Zero Dark Thirtyalongside Jessica Chastain. He also served as executive producer of the HBO miniseries Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012), which explored literary legend Ernest Hemingway’s relationship with journalist Martha Gellhorn, who became Hemingway’s third wife. The actor took a comedic turn the following year, playing Doug Munny in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone(2013) alongside Steve Carell, Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi.
Personal Life and Death
James Gandolfini and his wife, Marcella, married in March 1999 and divorced in December 2002. The couple had one child together, a son named Michael. In January 2004, Gandolfini proposed to his girlfriend, Lora Somoza, but the engagement was later called off.
While word of his death spread, politicians such as John McCain and Chris Christie took to the Internet to respond.Christie ordered all New Jersey State buildings to fly flags at half staff on June 24 to honor Gandolfini when his remains were returned to the United States. The people of Gandolfini’s hometown, Park Ridge, New Jersey, started a Facebook page to discuss plans to honor him, including naming a street after him and renaming the Little Theater at Park Ridge High School, where he did his first performances, after him.
The day after Gandolfini’s death, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which has long featured Sopranos co-star Steven Van Zandt on guitar, gave a performance of their 1975 classic “Born to Run” and dedicated it to Gandolfini.
Gandolfini’s body was returned to the U.S. on June 23, 2013. Family spokesman Michael Kobold thanked both Italian and American authorities for expediting the repatriation process, which normally takes seven days. Broadway dimmed theater marquee lights on the night of Wednesday, June 26 in Gandolfini’s honor.
His funeral service was held on June 27, 2013 at the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights, New York City.
TV Guide published a special tribute to Gandolfini in their July 1, 2013 issue, devoting the entire back cover of that issue to his image. Columnist Matt Roush cited Gandolfini’s work as Tony Soprano as an influence on subsequent cable TV protagonists, saying: “Without Tony, there’s no Vic Mackey of The Shield, no Al Swearengen of Deadwood, no Don Draper of Mad Men (whose creator, Matthew Weiner, honed his craft as a writer on The Sopranos).” Similar testimonials were included by his costars and colleagues, including Edie Falco, who expressed shock and devastation at his death; Sopranos creator David Chase, who praised him as a “genius”; Bryan Cranston, who stated that his Breaking Bad character Walter White would not have existed without Tony Soprano; and Gandolfini’s Killing Them Softly costar Brad Pitt, who expressed admiration for Gandolfini as a “ferocious actor, a gentle soul and a genuinely funny man”.
In December 2013, following an online petition campaign started by Gandolfini’s high school classmate, Lori Fredrics, the Borough of Park Ridge, New Jersey renamed its main thoroughfare, Park Avenue, “James Gandolfini Way” at a public ceremony attended by several former cast members of the television series, The Sopranos.