On This Day: James Gandolfini, Star of ‘The Sopranos,’ Passes Away in 2013

by Keeli Parkey

June 19, 2013, was a sad in the history of television. It was on that day that an actor who was responsible for one of the most iconic performances in television history passed away.

That actor was James Gandolfini. And he is the man who brought the famous – and infamous – character Tony Soprano to life on “The Sopranos.” Tony was one of the first anti-heroes television fans fell in love with. He was violent and sexist and awful in so many ways. He was a mob boss, after all. However, there was just something about Tony Soprano that fans loved. And, even loved to hate.

Certainly, the writers and producers of the show are to thank for its enduring success. But, Tony Soprano would not have been Tony Soprano without James Gandolfini’s performance. It’s the role that he will always be most identified with.

One reason for that is that the actor’s life came to an early – and unexpected – end in 2013. According to Deadline.com, Gandolfini passed away suddenly while traveling in Italy. He was only 51 years old at the time of his death, which took place in Rome, Italy. The cause of the actor’s death was a heart attack.

Creator of ‘The Sopranos’ Praised James Gandolfini After the Actor’s Surprising Death In 2013

David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos” was one of the many fans of James Gandolfini who honored the Emmy-winning actor after his death. Gandolfini won three Emmys for his performance as Tony Soprano.

“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,” Chase said. “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.”

According to IMDb, James Gandolfini was born on Sept. 18, 1961, in Westwood, New Jersey. His father worked as the janitor at a high school and as a bricklayer. His mother also worked in a high school. She was employed as a lunch lady.

‘The Sopranos’ Actor Also Appeared on the Broadway Stage

Gandolfini started his acclaimed acting career working in theatre in New York. The first time he appeared on Broadway was alongside stars Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. The production was the 1992 revival of the classic Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

According to Playbill.com, this wasn’t the only time James Gandolfini appeared on Broadway. He returned to the stage in 1995 in “On the Waterfront,” then again in the 2009 production of “God of Carnage.”

In tribute to James Gandolfini, you can watch him talk about playing Tony Soprano on “60 Minutes” in 2005. “I’m not Tony Soprano by any means,” Gandolfini says in the clip. “You know, it’s an exaggeration of everything.”