James Gandolfini Biography

Filmmaker, Actor, Theater Actor, Film Actor, Television Actor (1961–2013)
James Gandolfini was an American actor best known for his role as a mobster on the hit 1999 HBO television series The Sopranos.


James Gandolfini was an American actor born on September 18, 1961, in Westwood, New Jersey. He discovered acting in the late 1980s and made his Broadway debut in 1992. Gandolfini's breakthrough came in the role of a mobster on the hit 1999 HBO television series The Sopranos. During the show’s six-year run, the actor won numerous accolades, including a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Emmy. Gandolfini died in Italy after suffering a heart attack on June 19, 2013, at age 51.

Acting Debut

James Joseph Gandolfini Jr. was born on September 18, 1961, in Westwood, New Jersey. Gandolfini grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Rutgers University. He discovered the stage after spending years as a Manhattan bouncer and nightclub manager. When a friend took him to an acting class in the late 1980s, he was left so unsettled and challenged by a focusing exercise that involved threading a needle that he knew he had to return.

Shortly thereafter, James Gandolfini immersed himself in the New York theater world. His Broadway debut came with the 1992 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire with Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin. His New York stage credits also include On the Waterfront, One Day Wonder with the Actor's Studio and Tarantulas Dancing at the Samuel Beckett Theatre.

Breakthrough Role

Gandolfini's breakthrough screen role came with his portrayal of Virgil, the philosophizing hit man, in Tony Scott's True Romance with Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette. He went on to play a diverse range of roles in more than 25 motion pictures over his decades-long career, including John Cusack's brother in Money for Nothing, Geena Davis's plumber boyfriend in Angie and a loyal Navy lieutenant in Crimson Tide. He also played a pivotal role in Steve Zaillian's A Civil Action alongside John Travolta and Robert Duvall.

'The Sopranos'

Gandolfini's gift for shedding light on the vulnerable side of seemingly ruthless characters led to his starring role on the acclaimed HBO drama series The Sopranos. In 1999, Gandolfini won both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for his portrayal of Tony Soprano, a gangster having a midlife crisis. He also won the Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a drama series three times—in 2000, 2001 and 2003. Also in 2003, it was announced that The Sopranos would end after its sixth season.

Later Roles

In 2004, Gandolfini appeared in the DreamWorks' comedy Surviving Christmas (2004) with Ben Affleck and the political drama All the King's Men (2006) with Sean Penn. He also continued to work with HBO after The Sopranos ended in 2007, after signing a development deal with the cable channel and its film distribution company, Picturehouse, in August 2006.

Gandolfini began appearing on the big screen again in 2009. He starred in the action dramas The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and In the Loop, and became a voice in the live-action remake of the children's book Where the Wild Things Are (2009).

In 2012, Gandolfini appeared in the crime-thriller Killing Them Softly with Brad Pitt, and played a C.I.A. director in the acclaimed film Zero Dark Thirty alongside Jessica Chastain. He also served as executive producer of the HBO miniseries Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012), which explored literary legend Ernest Hemingway's relationship with journalist Martha Gellhorn, who became Hemingway's third wife. The actor took a comedic turn the following year, playing Doug Munny in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013) alongside Steve Carell, Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi.

Personal Life and Death

Gandolfini and his wife, Marcella, married in March 1999 and divorced in December 2002. The couple had one child together, a son named Michael. In January 2004, Gandolfini proposed to his girlfriend, Lora Somoza, but the engagement was later called off.

On June 19, 2013, at the age of 51, Gandolfini died after suffering a heart attack in Rome, Italy, where he had traveled to attend the Taormina Film Festival.

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