LOS ANGELES — James Gandolfini, whose portrayal of a brutal, emotionally delicate crime boss in HBO's "The Sopranos" was the brilliant center of one of TV's greatest drama series and turned the mobster stereotype on its head, died Wednesday in Italy. He was 51.
Gandolfini died while vacationing in Rome, the cable channel and Gandolfini's managers Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders said in a joint statement. No cause of death was given.
"He was a genius," said "Sopranos" creator David Chase. "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. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes."
Gandolfini, who won three Emmy Awards for his role as Tony Soprano, worked steadily in film and on stage after the series ended. He earned a 2009 Tony Award nomination for his role in the celebrated production of "God of Carnage."
"Our hearts are shattered and we will miss him deeply. He and his family were part of our family for many years and we are all grieving," said Armstrong and Sanders.
HBO called the actor a "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." The channel expressed sympathy for his wife and children.
Joe Gannascoli, who played Vito Spatafore on the HBO drama, said he was shocked and heartbroken.
"Fifty-one and leaves a kid — he was newly married. His son is fatherless now. ... It's way too young," Gannascoli said.
Gandolfini and his wife, Deborah, who were married in 2008, have a daughter, Liliana, born last year, HBO said. The actor and his former wife, Marcy, have a teenage son, Michael.