LOS ANGELES – James Gandolfini, whose portrayal of a brutal, emotionally delicate mob boss in HBO's "The Sopranos" helped create one of TV's greatest drama series and turned the mobster stereotype on its head, died Wednesday in Italy. He was 51.
In a statement, the cable channel, and Gandolfini's managers Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders, said he died Wednesday while on holiday in Rome. No cause of death was given.
"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.
Gandolfini played mob boss Tony Soprano in the groundbreaking HBO series that aired from 1999 to 2007. His film credits included "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Killing Them Softly," and he amassed stage credits as well.
He shared a Broadway stage in 2009 with Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden in a celebrated production of "God of Carnage," where he earned a Tony Award nomination for best actor. He had also been in "On the Waterfront" with David Morse and was an understudy in a revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1992 starring Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange.
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 cold-blooded killer.
After the David Chase series concluded with its breathtaking blackout ending, Gandolfini's varied film work included comedies such as "In the Loop," a political satire, and the heartwarming drama "Welcome to the Rileys," which costarred Kristen Stewart. He voiced the Wild Thing Carol in "Where the Wild Things Are."
In a December 2012 interview with The Associated Press, Gandolfini said he gravitated to acting as a release, a way to get rid of anger. "I don't know what exactly I was angry about," he said.
"I try to avoid certain things and certain kinds of violence at this point," he said last year. "I'm getting older, too. I don't want to be beating people up as much. I don't want to be beating women up and those kinds of things that much anymore."