NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Friends and fans alike continued to offer their condolences Thursday, one day after actor James Gandolfini died in Rome from apparent cardiac arrest.
Gandolfini, 51, died Wednesday while on vacation in the Italian capitol. Dr. Claudio Modini, head of the emergency room at the Policlinic Umberto I hospital, said Gandolfini arrived at the hospital at 10:40 p.m. and was pronounced dead at 11 p.m. after resuscitation efforts in the ambulance and hospital failed.
PHOTOS: Remembering James Gandolfini
Michael Kobold, a family friend, told reporters in Rome that Gandolfini experienced a “medical emergency” in his room at Rome’s Exedra Hotel at around 10 p.m. Wednesday. He said a family member discovered Gandolfini, but he declined to say whom.
“Probably a natural cause of death,” a doctor at the hospital said.
The doctor said ER staff tried to resuscitate Gandolfini for 40 minutes.
“Unfortunately, with many people, when these things happen there often can be no warning. It just happens because of one issue or another in the heart,” 1010 WINS medical expert Brian McDonough explained. “At age 51, it’s not uncommon to have a heart attack. We don’t see it all the time, but this is the age group where you will see problems.”
Modini said an autopsy would be performed starting 24 hours after the death, as required by law.
Organizers of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily were scrambling to put together a tribute to Gandolfini, who had been expected to attend the festival’s closing ceremony this weekend and receive an award. Organizers Mario Sesti and Tiziana Rocca said Gandolfini will instead be honored with a tribute “remembering his career and talent.”
Sesti and Rocca said they had spoken to Gandolfini hours before his death “and he was very happy to receive this prize and be able to travel to Italy.”
The New Jersey native is best known for his portrayal of mafia boss Tony Soprano in HBO’s landmark drama series “The Sopranos.”
Gandolfini had a knack for playing a tough guy, but refused to be bound by his star-making role in the cable series that brought him three Emmy Awards during its six-season run.
“He was a genius,” David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” said in a statement. “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.”
As CBS 2′s Tony Aiello reported, he brought complexity and nuance to a role that could have been caricature.
Gandolfini’s portrayal of the conflicted killer Tony Soprano earned him fame and fortune and his generous nature won him admiration from his co-stars.
“He was as down to earth as anybody could be. He would do anything for you. If you asked him to do you a favor or you needed something, he was right there. And it’s a tragic loss that we have, we lost this guy, because he was a great, great actor and a great friend,” actor Frank Vincent said. ”Jim was a very humble guy and he had no airs about him and he just did what he had to do and he put it all out there and that’s what I think made him great. He was as down to earth as anybody could be.”
Gandolfini’s passing prompted heartfelt expressions of shock and sorrow from his “Sopranos” castmates.
Actor Dominic Chianese, who played Tony’s uncle on “The Sopranos,” said a star has been dimmed too soon.
“A light has gone out in the world. This guy was so compassionate, such a genuine person. It brought me to tears, that was my reaction,” Chianese said.
“We lost a giant today. I am utterly heartbroken,” said Lorraine Bracco, who portrayed Tony Soprano’s therapist on the show.
“I am shocked and devastated by Jim’s passing. He was a man of tremendous depth and sensitivity, with a kindness and generosity beyond words,” said Edie Falco, who played Gandolfini’s on-screen wife, Carmela Soprano. “I consider myself very lucky to have spent 10 years as his close colleague. My heart goes out to his family. As those of us in his pretend one hold on to the memories of our intense and beautiful time together. The love between Tony and Carmela was one of the greatest I’ve ever known.”
“Jimmy treated us all like family with a generosity, loyalty and compassion that is rare in this world,” said Michael Imperioli, who portrayed Tony Soprano’s protege, Christopher Moltisanti. “Working with him was a pleasure and a privilege. I will be forever grateful having had a friend the likes of Jimmy.”
“I’ve not only lost a great friend, but a true brother, on screen and off. James was the most generous actor to work with, but more so, a man with a heart of gold,” said Aida Turturro, who played Gandolfini’s on-screen sister, Janice. “I love him and my heart goes out to his family.”
“This news has left me heartbroken. I can only imagine the pain his family feels at this time, and my heart goes out to them, especially Deborah, Michael and Liliana,” said Jamie Lynn Sigler, who played Tony Soprano’s daughter, Meadow. “I spent 10 years of my life studying and admiring one of the most brilliant actors, yes, but more importantly one of the greatest men. Jim had the ability, unbeknownst to him, to make you feel like everything would be alright if he was around. I treasure my memories with him and feel so honored that I was an up close witness to his greatness.”
He was mourned online in a flood of celebrity comments. “The great James Gandolfini passed away today. Only 51. I can’t believe it,” Bette Midler posted on her Twitter account.
“An extraordinary actor. RIP, Mr. Gandolfini,” Robin Williams tweeted.
Gov. Chris Christie called Gandolfini “a fine actor” and “a true Jersey guy.”
Off screen, Gandolfini had moments of torment, Aiello reported.
In the July issue of GQ Magazine, a story about the actor reports “Gandolfini’s wife described…serious issues with drugs and alcohol.”
As “The Sopranos” became a cultural phenomenon, Gandolfini struggled with the pressure.
During filming “he would claim to be sick, refuse to leave his TriBeCa apartment,” the magazine reported.
Afterwards, “he would feel so wretched…he would treat the cast and crew to extravagant gifts.”
Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge, N.J., the son of a building maintenance chief at a Catholic school and a high school lunch lady.
He attended Rutgers University and worked as a bartender and a nightclub manager before he got his acting start in the New York theater.
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 breakthrough screen role was an appearance as Virgil the hit man in the 1993 movie “True Romance.”
Gandolfini’s performance in “The Sopranos” was his ticket to fame, but he evaded being stereotyped as a mobster after the drama’s breathtaking blackout ending in 2007.
“I’m much more comfortable doing smaller things,” Gandolfini said in a December 2012 interview with The Associated Press. “I like them. I like the way they’re shot; they’re shot quickly. It’s all about the scripts – that’s what it is – and I’m getting some interesting little scripts.”
He played Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden hunt docudrama “Zero Dark Thirty.” He worked with Chase for the ’60s period drama “Not Fade Away,” in which he played the old-school father of a wannabe rocker. And in Andrew Dominick’s crime flick “Killing Them Softly,” he played an aged, washed-up hit man.
On Broadway, he garnered a best-actor Tony Award nomination for 2009′s “God of Carnage.”
His final projects included the film “Animal Rescue,” directed by Michael R. Roskam and written by Dennis Lehane, which has been shot and is expected to be released next year. He also had agreed to star in a seven-part limited series for HBO, “Criminal Justice,” based on a BBC show. He had shot a pilot for an early iteration of the project.
But in our cultural consciousness, he’ll always be remembered as the mobster who somehow avoided being a monster, Aiello reported.
Gandolfini and his wife, Deborah, who were married in 2008, have a daughter, Liliana, born last year, HBO said. The actor and his former wife, Marcy, have a teenage son, Michael.
Check Out These Other Stories From CBSNewYork.com:
- 2 Outbound Lanes of George Washington Bridge Closed Until Morning For Repairs
- Largest N.J. Health Insurer Dropping Some Coverage Plans In Response To Affordable Care Act
- New Research On Breast Cancer May Change Way Disease Is Treated
- Sign Language Interpreter At Mandela Memorial Deemed Fake
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)