James Gandolfini (18 September, 1961 – 19 June, 2013) was an American actor best known for his starring role as Tony Soprano in the television series The Sopranos, from 1999-2007.
Gandolfini's other notable roles include a pornographer Eddie Poole in 8mm, woman-beating mob enforcer Virgil in the Quentin Tarantino-written thriller True Romance, a gay hitman in The Mexican, enforcer/stuntman Bear in Get Shorty, and a sadistic military prison commander in The Last Castle.
Gandolfini was born in Westwood, New Jersey to Joan, a school lunch lady, and James Gandolfini, Sr., a building maintenance chief at a Catholic school.
His parents, Italian immigrants, spent part of their childhoods in Italy and often spoke Italian.
Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge, New Jersey and graduated from Park Ridge High School in 1979, where he played basketball and acted in school plays.
He held a bachelor of arts degree in communications from Rutgers University, where he worked as a bouncer at an on-campus pub. Gandolfini also worked as a bartender and club manager before embarking on an acting career.
Gandolfini was introduced to acting as a young man living in New York City when he accompanied a friend to an acting class.
After acting on Broadway, Gandolfini established a film career. One of his more well-known film roles is that of Virgil, a brutal woman-beating mob enforcer, in the 1993 romantic thriller True Romance.
In the 1994 film Terminal Velocity, Gandolfini played Ben Pinkwater, a seemingly mild-mannered insurance man who turns out to be a violent Russian mobster. He also appeared in The Juror as a mob enforcer with a conscience. In Get Shorty he appeared as a bearded ex-stuntman with a southern accent.
Gandolfini's most acclaimed role is that of Tony Soprano, the Mafia boss and family man in the multi-award-winning HBO series The Sopranos, which debuted in 1999.
He won three Emmys for "Best Actor in a Drama" for his depiction of New Jersey Mafia boss Tony Soprano, an aging baby boomer who constantly questions his own identity and purpose. Gandolfini eventually garnered $1,000,000 per episode in the series.
Gandolfini was typically identified as politically liberal yet independent. He was an ardent supporter of Rutgers' football team, and appeared in several television commercials for the university's football program, usually alongside head coach Greg Schiano and with another famous Rutgers alumnus, Mario Batali.
In contrast to his on-screen character Tony Soprano, Gandolfini was modest and obsessive. He even described himself as "a 260-pound Woody Allen."
He considered himself a pacifist and maintained reservations about continuing his portrayal of the violent mob boss. His sister Johanna is a prominent official with the New Jersey Family Court system.
Gandolfini was a big fan of motorbikes, and owned a Harley Davidson and a Vespa Scooter. On May 4, 2006, Gandolfini crashed his Vespa scooter into a taxi. He was forced to undergo knee surgery after the accident, postponing the filming of the final Sopranos episodes.
He was named the Kingpin on the Spike TV Guys' Choice Awards on June 13, 2007.
On 19 June, 2013, Gandolfini died suddenly while vacationing in Rome. Early reports suggested the cause of death was either an acute myocardial infarction or a stroke. He was 51.