Per Deadline, the actor died on Wednesday of a suspected heart attack while in Italy. He was 51.
During his estimable run as The Sopranos‘ paterfamilias Tony, Gandolfini earned three Emmys in five tries, as well as a Golden Globe award. He also stands as the only three-time winner for the Television Critics Association Award for Individual Achievement in Drama.
In an email to Deadline, former HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht, who in 1997 greenlit the crime family saga, declared himself “absolutely stunned. I got the word from Lorraine Bracco [who played Dr. Melfi] and just got off with [producer] Brad Grey who had just heard from [Sopranos creator] David Chase. We had all become a family. This is a tremendous loss.”
HBO also issued a formal statement on their onetime front man’s passing:
“We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family. He was 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.”
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Sopranos creator David Chase echoed those sentiments in his statement:
“He was a genius. 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. For [Gandolfini’s family] this is crushing. And it’s bad for the rest of the world. He wasn’t easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can’t explain and never will be able to explain.”
Gandolfini’s film career kicked off in 1993 with True Romance, followed by Crimson Tide and Get Shorty. His more recent credits include last year’s acclaimed Zero Dark Thirty (where he played the CIA director) and the indie Not Fade Away.
His post-Sopranos small-screen appearances included HBO’s Cinema Verite and Nickelodeon’s recently premiered Nicky Deuce TV-movie. He was next to star in HBO’s adaptation of the BBC series Criminal Justice, which last month was greenlit for a seven-episode run.
Also, screenwriter Rod Lurie, in the wake of Gandolfini’s passing, shared on Twitter that the actor was to star in his HBO project Sacco and Vanzetti, about the controversially executed 1920s anarchists.
On the stage, he made his Broadway debut in the 1992 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire (with Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin), and he earned a Tony Award nomination in 2009 for God of Carnage.
The actor is survived by his wife Deborah Lin and their 8-month-old daughter Liliana, and his 14-year-old son Michael (from a previous marriage).
Watch Gandolfini accept his first Emmy, in 2000: