The Sopranos star James Gandolfini has died in Italy after suffering a heart attack. He was 51.

HBO confirmed the news this evening to Variety. Gandolfini was in Italy to participate in the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily.

“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,” HBO said in a statement.

Gandolfini won three Emmy Awards for his role as mobster Tony Soprano on HBO's series The Sopranos. He was also a successful film actor, with prominent roles in Get Shorty, True Romance, Zero Dark Thirty, In the Loop and many others. In 2009, he starred in the Broadway play God of Carnage with Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis.

After The Sopranos ended in 2007, Gandolfini maintained a relationship with HBO. He produced two documentaries for the channel, 2007's Alive Day: Home From Iraq and 2010's Wartorn: 1861-2010, and one feature film, 2010's Hemingway and Gelhorn.

Like his most famous character, Gandolfini was born and raised in an Italian household in New Jersey. His mother, born in the US but raised in Naples, Italy, worked in a high school cafeteria, and his father, born in Borgotaro, Italy, worked as a cement mason and as a high school custodian. After graduating from Park Ridge high school, Gandolfini attended Rutgers University, earning a degree in communications in 1983. He worked for several years as a night club manager, a truck driver, and bartender before discovering acting at the age of 25, after attending an acting class in Manhattan with his friend, actor Roger Bart.

"He was a genius. Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that," The Sopranos creator David Chase said in a statement. "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 Deborah and 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."

Gandolfini is survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, his teenage son, Michael, and a baby daughter Lilliana, born in October of last year.

[Image via Getty]

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