Obituary: Actor James Gandolfini, 1961-2013

James Gandolfini in Zero Dark Thirty

James Gandolfini in Zero Dark Thirty

The man who gave a Mob boss a soft side, actor James Gandolfini died on Wednesday June 19, 2013, from a suspected heart attack while on vacation in Rome, Italy. He was 51.

Gandolfini became a household name playing Tony Soprano, the reluctant Mob boss of HBO’s hit show The Sopranos. As well as making Gandolfini a star, the show secured HBO as a home for brilliant original entertainment. Gandolfini played Tony for six seasons, carrying the series on his broad shoulders.

The role wasn’t easy for Gandolfini. The best roles never are. In a Fox News interview around the time of the show’s finale, Gandolfini said that playing Tony was “wearing” and that “it’s very calming to move on.” But his performances in The Sopranos won him numerous awards over the years, including three Emmy statuettes and a Golden Globe.  Check him out in the cow joke clip from Season One:

Although The Sopranos skyrocketed Gandolfini to the cover of magazines, he had a long career before Tony was created.

He started on the stage, branching out into movies with Shock! Shock! Shock! in 1987 playing an orderly and following it up with other small roles.

His Broadway debut came in 1992 in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire with Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin. Then in 1993, Gandolfini gained attention playing the hitman Virgil in Tony Scott’s True Romance. He’s brutal, dark, and strong. Watch him at work:

That role led to bigger parts, strong man parts. He was brilliantly mean in Crimson Tide, a henchman with a soft side in Get Shorty, and on the bad side again in The Juror.

James Gandolfini in Killing Them Softly

James Gandolfini in Killing Them Softly

Gandolfini continued to get more diverse roles in the years following, in dramas She’s So Lovely, A Civil Action and The Mighty. Until HBO came calling…

After The Sopranos, Gandolfini stretched himself even more, lending his voice to Where the Wild Things Are, playing a grieving father in Welcome to the Rileys, a depressed, alcoholic hitman in Killing Them Softly and the director of the CIA in Zero Dark Thirty.

In 2007, he took on a new title, telling the stories of soldiers as the executive producer of documentaries Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq and Wartorn: 1861-2010. He went on to executive produce the indie movie Hemingway & Gellhorn and the TV show Criminal Justice, the first episode of which he also starred in.

He has more performances in the can, so we hope we haven’t seen the last of Gandolfini yet.

About S. Clark

Sam Clark is the former Managing Editor/Online Editor of Video Business magazine. With 19 years experience in journalism, 12 in the home entertainment industry, Sam has been hooked on movies on since she saw E.T. then stared into the sky waiting to meet her own friendly alien. Thanks to her husband’s shared love of movies, Sam reviews Blu-ray discs in a true home theater, with a 118-inch screen, projector and cushy recliners with cup holders.