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Sopranos Star James Gandolfini Dead at 51

Fans, friends remember the Bergen County native who gained worldwide fame as mob boss Tony Soprano

Actor James Gandolfini, best known for his role as larger-than-life New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, died Wednesday after suffering a heart attack in Rome.

He was 51.

Gandolfini, a Bergen County native who attended Rutgers, was in Italy for the Taormina Film Festival, at which he was expected to make an appearance during the closing gala on Saturday.

"He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time," Sopranos creator David Chase said in a statement. "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.'"

Gandolfini won three Emmys and an army of fans for his portrayal of the equally murderous and humorous mob scion Tony Soprano, a product of the streets of Newark who lived with his dysfunctional family in a stately home in North Caldwell.

The show, critically acclaimed but often criticized for its glorification of the mafia lifestyle, made the Park Ridge native a household name and formed the leading edge of a wave of New Jersey-themed television shows when it first aired in 1999.

"We're all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family," HBO Vice President of program publicity Mara Mikialian said. "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."

Steven Van Zandt, who played caporegime Silvio Dante on the show, posted on Facebook that "the world has lost one of the greatest actors of all time."

At Satin Dolls in Lodi, where scenes featuring the fictional Bada Bing strip club run by Van Zandt's character were filmed, manager Lance Lyons said the series made an impact still felt today.

"It did good for the club," he said. "People know the club as the Bada Bing. We have tourists coming in here all the time."

At Holsten's ice cream parlor in Bloomfield, a "reserved" sign was placed on the table where the Soprano family dined on onion rings before the series famously cut to black, a small tribute to Gandolfini.

"He was a very nice man and a real professional when the cameras were rolling," said Chris Carley, the owner of Holstens.

Gov. Chris Christie called Gandolfini "a true Jersey guy."

"It’s an awful shock. James Gandolfini was a fine actor, a Rutgers alum and a true Jersey guy," Christie said. "I was a huge fan of his and the character he played so authentically."

James Cozzarelli, the owner of the Irvine-Cozzarelli funeral home in Belleville where many "Sopranos" funeral scenes were filmed, remembered Gandolfini as "a wonderful, generous, welcoming gentleman" who always took the time to speak with fans who waited outside during filming.

“He truly listened to the fans, put his arm around around their shoulders, took pictures with them, and just reassured people," Cozzarelli said. "He would also remind people that he was an actor and nothing like the character he portrayed on the TV show."

North Caldwell Police Chief Mark Deuer, who met Gandolfini while working security on the Sopranos set, said the actor would often join police officers for lunch.

"He was down to earth, one of the guys, always pleasant," Deuer said. "He was a good guy."

Deuer still keeps a photo of them together on his desk.

Gandolfini's first noteworthy role was in a 1992 Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" with Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange.

He first reached success as a hitman in 1993's "True Romance." Gandolfini appeared in more than 40 movies, including "Get Shorty," a 1997 remake of "12 Angry Men" and the Oscar-nominated "Zero Dark Thirty." His most recent movie, indie film "Down the Shore," features Gandolfini as a down-on-his-luck boardwalk amusement owner dealing with the death of his sister and troubles from his past.

Though he was best known for his roles as gruff characters, Gandolfini also produced two documentaries examining the post-war experience of veterans coming home from Iraq.

He was twice married, and had one son with his first wife, Marcy Wudarski. He married his second wife, former model Deborah Lin, in 2008. They had a daughter together last year.

Gandolfini was born at the Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood on September 18, 1961 and grew up in nearby Park Ridge, where he played high school basketball and was reportedly a lifelong fan of The Ridge Diner.

He was also a supporter of the Octoberwoman Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, based in Park Ridge. He appeared as a celebrity guest at the charity's functions numerous times to help raise money.

Gandolfini's sisters still live in Bergen County. Johanna Antonacci is the manager of the county Superior Court's Family Division and resides in Montvale. Leta Gandolfini lives in Westwood. His father, who died in 2005, was the longtime director of facilities at Paramus Catholic High School.

Paul Milo, Teresa Akersten, Mike D'Onofrio and Devin McGinley contributed to this report.

Lynda Kraar June 20, 2013 at 03:13 AM
A giant, cut down in the prime of his life, so tragic. Let's get a campaign together to name the giant Teaneck tree stump in memory of James Gandolfini. It could be a fitting tribute and offer some recognition of what really matters in life. Comments, fellow Bergen residents?
sake June 20, 2013 at 03:33 AM
I said the very same Mark C. Such a loss. I've been holding my breath silently and patiently waiting for the movie to hit the airwaves of the Sopranos. What a terrible loss for his family, friends and loved ones including all of us in the New Jersey community and fans of The Sopranos. James Jimmy 'Tony Soprano' Gandolfini will be missed greatly!
jo June 20, 2013 at 04:14 AM
To his family and dear friends his lose is immeasurable as a man, father, brother, friend and husband. It is shocking to lose anyone that young, hopefully memories, love and time will see you all through.
Joy Gandolfini June 20, 2013 at 05:01 AM
Heart attack
Fort Lee Truth June 20, 2013 at 05:42 AM
Tom, where did they film the scenes in town and what episodes? I'd love to see them on YouTube since I don't recall any of the background scenes looking familiar in any of the episodes.
SockPuppet June 20, 2013 at 08:17 AM
Continue to ask questions on a local Patch rather than, oh, you know, Googling, watching TV, or listening to a radio. STUNOD!
Harlan Consider June 20, 2013 at 10:35 AM
Ridgewood did feature in the Sopranos once. The FBI agents interviewed Chris' girlfriend in the restaurant by the train station (the one at the corner with Broad and the station parking lot). This is when she threw up all over the table.
Marie D. Hanlon June 20, 2013 at 11:01 AM
RIP James! Your career was memorable and you will be missed by this Jersey girl! Marie Hanlon
Kris June 20, 2013 at 11:08 AM
Sympathies to the family. I'm stunned and so sad at this loss.
Moira June 20, 2013 at 12:19 PM
All I can imagine is Carmela crying at his bedside. Edie Falco must be devastated.
Moira June 20, 2013 at 12:20 PM
I think she threw up in the FBI's offices.
Myopinion June 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM
Me too...that show will be remembered forever.
Myopinion June 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM
Totally off subject...uncle albert...very hot :)
b flake June 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM
Will he be buried with Jimmy Hoffa?
CJandMMom June 20, 2013 at 01:09 PM
i agree myopinion. smokin'.
Harlan Consider June 20, 2013 at 01:12 PM
Thanks Moira, you are right. I mixed up two scenes. For more details about the Ridgewood segment in the Sopranos, check out the first item at http://www.sopranosuessightings.com/locations3.htm
Ned Kane June 20, 2013 at 01:22 PM
He sleeps with the fishes. Let us also remember the passing yesterday of Slim Whitman who saved planet earth in the 1996 movie "Mars Attack"
chris June 20, 2013 at 01:41 PM
I thought the same thing, about never seeing a Soprano's movie, and no one could ever replace him.
William Mays June 20, 2013 at 02:35 PM
Vito died at the Courtesy Motel, I think there was something else in Fort Lee too.
Wassamatta U June 20, 2013 at 02:46 PM
posting at 4:17 Am with a snide comments instead of oh you know doing something useful with your life? stugots.
Wassamatta U June 20, 2013 at 02:47 PM
Jimmy Gandolfini was a genius, he found the cure for cancer, brought peace to the middle east, healed sick children and crapped snow cones....all this while downing two pepperoni pies a day.
Gary Rabinowitz June 20, 2013 at 02:49 PM
May perpetual light shine upon him.....the best actor amongst a cast of many greats, with some of (if not) the best writing in any tv show or movie ever made. Any & all "run ins" with Gandolfini that I've heard of--at Rutgers games, on site for Sopranos shoots (the camera kind!), at local bars near the Holland tunnel or in the west village of NYC where he lived for many years, all had a consistent thread: good guy, humble, with a good heart. RIP....-GXR
The Good Guy June 20, 2013 at 02:51 PM
I hope I am as lucky as he was with my death. What a way to go, on vacation, with family (I assume). It's way better than being in a hospital with tubes sticking out of you or slowly losing your memories until you are nothing but an empty husk. Rest in Peace.
P.Homer June 20, 2013 at 03:22 PM
My partner went to Rutgers with him and they were roommates and friends for years. I have heard many great stories!
CAZ June 20, 2013 at 04:43 PM
My condolences to family, friends and many fans, such as I. A true inspiration he was. Very talented actor. We enjoyed the Sapranos, as well as many other roles James had performed in. Hollywood has lost yet another icon. God bless and rest your soul James Gandalofini.
Harlan Consider June 20, 2013 at 04:44 PM
I don't think it's lucky to die at 51. I'll take the hospital and tubes as long as I make it past 80.
hugh lindsay June 20, 2013 at 05:59 PM
they used to film in Kearny all the time and the cast was always so good to us townies and James was a class act. always hoped for a reunion but was content with what we were given. my best wishes to his wife and children and rest of family
hugh lindsay June 20, 2013 at 06:00 PM
and i can't forget those nights at Satin Doll's AKA the Bada Bing so many great nights
Nose Wayne June 20, 2013 at 06:23 PM
James "Tony" Gandalofini "Soprano", had the pleasure of meeting him numerous times while filming the "Sopranos". He was a class act, a fine gentlemen and an all around great person that never forgot where he came from. And always took the time out for pictures with his fans. I will always treasure mine with him. RIP TONY.
Juliuswarm June 25, 2013 at 09:59 PM
wonderful man.

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