While he might have received international acclaim for his role as Tony Soprano in the HBO television series, The Sopranos, James Gandolfini had an over twenty-year career on stage and on screens both big and small. The actor died today while on vacation in Italy of an apparent heart attack.
Gandolfini was born in Westwood, NJ to an Italian immigrant father and an Italian- American mother. He was working as a bouncer and a bar manager in New York City when he decided to pursue acting. The first work that got him notice on the Broadway stage was a supporting role in 1992’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which also starred Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. He would recreate Rod Steiger’s role of Charley in 1995’s short-lived Broadway adaptation of On The Waterfront. He would return to the Broadway stage post-Sopranos in 2009, originating the role of Michael in God of Carnage, a role that would be played by John C. Reilly in Roman Polanski’s 2011 film adaptation of the play, Carnage.
During his early career, Gandolfini would also play a number of supporting roles in feature films, usually as a corrupt cop, hired thug, hitman or mob enforcer in such films as True Romance, The Juror, and Get Shorty.
In 1999, David Chase promoted Gandolfini to crime boss in The Sopranos. Under Gandolfini, Tony Soprano became one of the most iconic characters in television history, a mob boss who seeks therapy to deal with his dysfunctional families at home and at work. The Sopranos would run for six season over eight years and garner the actor three Emmy Awards and one Golden Globe for his work on the series.
Gandolfini parlayed his Sopranos fame into higher profile film work in movies such as The Mexican, The Last Castle, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and All the Kings Men. In his film work post-Sopranos, he was able to begin to move away from his typical gangster roles in films, playing such characters as a father of a aspiring rock star for his reunion with David Chase, 2012’s Not Fade Away, playing Leon Panetta in the Oscar-nominated Zero Dark Thirty, and, most recently, playing a casino owner in this year’s The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
Gandolfini has two completed films set to be released in the near future: an as yet untitled film from Friends With Money‘s writer/director Nicole Holofcener and the crime-drama Animal Rescue, which in post-production for a 2014 release.