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The show won the Emmy as best drama series in 2004 and again in 2007 after its final season. The series concluded with a final episode that strongly suggested Tony was about to be murdered before abruptly ending mid-scene, cutting from a shot of Gandolfini’s face to a blank screen.
His role paved the way for a parade of popular prime-time shows built around profoundly flawed characters and anti-heroes, from “Dexter” and “Breaking Bad” to “Mad Men” and “Nurse Jackie.”
David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” paid tribute to his former star in a statement remembering him as “a genius” and “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,” Chase recounted.
Actress Marcia Gay Harden, his co-star in “God of Carnage,” saluted Gandolfini as a “great partner, masterful actor and a loving, generous human being.” Susan Sarandon, who played his wife in the 2005 romantic comedy “Romance and Cigarettes,” remembered him in a Twitter posting as “One of the sweetest, funniest, most generous actors I’ve ever worked with.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie hailed Gandolfini as “a fine actor, a Rutgers alum and a true Jersey guy.”
Gandolfini is due to appear on the big screen next year, playing the love interest of comic actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the film “Enough Said” and a role in a New York crime drama called “Animal Rescue.” Both are set for U.S. release by News Corp-owned studio Fox Searchlight.
Gandolfini preceded his career as a performer by working as a truck driver, bouncer and nightclub manager in New York City before he went to an acting class with a friend and got hooked.
“I’d also never been around actors before,” he told Time magazine, “and I said to myself, ‘These people are nuts; this is kind of interesting.’”
Born in Westwood, New Jersey, Gandolfini was raised in a working-class, Italian-American family by a father who was a bricklayer and high school custodian and a mother who worked in a school cafeteria.
In an interview on the television program “Inside the Actors Studio,” he said his parents spoke Italian in the home when they did not want the children to understand them.
“So they didn’t teach it to my sisters or myself,” he said.
Gandolfini had a son, Michael, with his first wife, Marcy Wudarski, whom he divorced in 2002. In 2008, he married model Deborah Lin, who gave birth to a daughter, Liliana, in 2012.