One of the best character actors in Hollywood, made a star by his leading role on David Chase’s THE SOPRANOS, James Gandolfini has passed away at the age of 51. Deadline broke the news today that Gandolfini, who was in Taormina Film Festival in Sicily, is believed to have suffered a sudden heart attack (cause of death is still “officially” unknown).
THE SOPRANOS creator David Chase was reported to say “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 [wife] Deborah and [children] Michael and Lilliana, 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.” Chase had recently worked again with Gandolfini on the movie NOT FADE AWAY, a 1960’s drama set around a young rock band. He also recently appeared in Kathryn Bigelow’s critically-acclaimed ZERO DARK THIRTY.
THE SOPRANOS star Tony Sirico, who played “Paulie”, was quoted to say “Tony was one of my best friends in life, he was there whenever I needed him. Not only did he help me with my career, but also in life, god bless him. He and I were always helping the troops, we even went to combat zones to visit the Marines. He will be missed.”
I always liked Gandolfini, both as a character actor and a leading man. He became a familiar face in big Hollywood films, and would often chew scenery like an old pro. Watching him become a household name from THE SOPRANOS was a great case of the hard-working man finally getting the credit they were due. People might be surprised at how many movies they saw him in that they forgot about. Some of the more memorable roles include:
TRUE ROMANCE (1993) – James plays a creepy and abusive hit man that gives Patricia Arquette a brutal beating, but pays the ultimate price for it.
CRIMSON TIDE (1995) – Gandolfini plays one of the seasoned sub crew that is none too happy about Denzel Washington takings the command reigns from Gene Hackman.
GET SHORTY (1995) – his role as “Bear” was understated but fun, and he gets to tussle with John Travolta a bit. Even then you could tell this was a guy to watch for.
A CIVIL ACTION (1998) – James stars again with Travolta, this time as concerned day trying to protect his family. It was a definite break from the norm for the actor.
THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001) – Gandolfini stars in this Coen Bros. film that many missed, playing a big bad opposite Billy Bob Thornton, complete with black and white noir storytelling.