LOS ANGELES —
Gandolfini's performance in "The Sopranos" was indelible and career-making, but he refused to be stereotyped as the bulky mobster who was a therapy patient, family man and apparently effortless killer.
In a December 2012 interview with The Associated Press — a rare sit-down for the star who avoided the spotlight — he was upbeat about a slew of smaller roles following the breathtaking blackout ending in 2007 of "The Sopranos."
"I'm much more comfortable doing smaller things," Gandolfini said in the interview. "I like them. I like the way they're shot; they're shot quickly. It's all about the scripts — that's what it is — and I'm getting some interesting little scripts."
He played Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden hunt docudrama "Zero Dark Thirty." He worked with Chase for the '60s period drama "Not Fade Away," in which he played the old-school father of a wannabe rocker. And in Andrew Dominick's crime flick "Killing Them Softly," he played an aged, washed-up hit man.
There were comedies such as the political satire "In the Loop," and the heartwarming drama "Welcome to the Rileys," which co-starred Kristen Stewart. He voiced the Wild Thing Carol in "Where the Wild Things Are" and made a rare return to the TV screen with the HBO film "Cinemate Verite."
He was mourned online by a flood of celebrity comments. "The great James Gandolfini passed away today. Only 51. I can't believe it," Bette Midler posted on her Twitter account.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to James Gandolfini's family. An extraordinary actor. RIP, Mr. Gandolfini," Robin Williams tweeted.