James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini

And raised in Westwood, NJ, Gandolfini graduated from Rutgers and went on to work as a bouncer and nightclub manager. A friend convinced him to attend an acting class and he gamely went along. The experience left him "unsettled," especially an exercise in which he had to thread a needle; it was enough to push him into a new line of work. After studies at the Actors Studio, Gandolfini landed stage work in small venues before finally making his Broadway debut in 1992 as Steve Hubbell (and understudy for the role of Mitch) in a revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire" starring Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin. That same year, he made his film debut supporting Melanie Griffith in "A Stranger Among Us," Sidney Lumet's uneven thriller set in the Hassidic community of Brooklyn. Gandolfini first registered with viewers as the philosophizing hit man, Virgil, in "True Romance" (1993), directed by Tony Scott. On the same day that film opened, he was also starring as John Cusack's brother in "Money for Nothing." Displaying a softer side, the actor was cast as Geena Davis' love interest in "Angie" (1994). After those mediocre offerings, the actor moved on to roles that saw him play villains such as in "Terminal Velocity" (1994) and competent men of authority, as in Scott's thriller, "Crimson Tide" (1995). Gandolfini mined the humor of the stuntman-mobster in "Get Shorty" (1995) to great effect. He gave a chilling account of an abusively drunk neighbor who tries to force himself on Robin Wright Penn in "She's So Lovely" (1997) and further displayed his versatility as the concerned father who pleads with lawyer John Travolta to represent the community in its claims of water contamination in the based-on-fact drama, "A Civil Action" (1998). Continuing his growing résumé, he essayed a creepy pornographer with a deadly secret in "8mm" (1999) and a cold-blooded killer with a sensitive side in "The Mexican" (2001), opposite A-listers, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. Later that year, he garnered additional praise as a prison warden with a mean streak in "The Last Castle" opposite Robert Redford, and as a straying husband in the noirish "The Man Who Wasn't There," written and directed by the Coen Brothers. All of these roles, however, were mere warm-ups for his portrayal of conflicted mob boss Tony Soprano on "The Sopranos," one of the richest, most layered characters in the history of the medium; certainly ever seen on original cable series. Over the course of the first season, Gandolfini was handed a plethora of emotions to portray - from exasperation at the machinations of his fellow mobsters, to the frustrations of dealing with his needy wife and overbearing mother, to the discomfort of therapy sessions with the attractive Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). The actor masterfully conveyed the conflicting feelings with the right mix of anger and humanity. Audiences loved him and critics praised him and for his efforts. He was rewarded with a justly deserved Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2000 and repeated the triumph in 2001 and 2003. Back on the big screen, Gandolfini's creative fortunes were not as rich, partially because he had become typecast. So powerful was his portrayal of Tony that he looked out of place when he appeared opposite Ben Affleck in the unfunny holiday comedy, "Surviving Christmas" (2004). After appearing in John Turturro's festival piece, "Romance and Cigarettes" (2005), Gandolfini gave typically solid performances in otherwise middling fare, including Todd Robinson's 1940s noir, "Lonely Hearts" (2006) and Steve Zaillian's miscalculated remake of the classic courtroom drama, "All the King's Men" (2006). After a year off from the show, Gandolfini returned for a seventh and final season of "The Sopranos." With so much time and emotion invested in the characters, viewers had only one question: not if, but how Tony would get whacked. The show's creator, David Chase, kept any spoilers under lock and key. Even when the show aired, answers were not forthcoming. In perhaps one of the most talked about season finale scenes of all time, Tony eats onion rings with Carmela (Edie Falco) and son A.J. (Robert Iler) at a diner while waiting on daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) to arrive. After a mysterious man disappears into a bathroom and Meadow finally parks her car across the street, Tony suddenly looks up and the screen goes blank, leaving doubt as to whether or not he was indeed killed. While most viewers - many of whom were in the midst of "Soprano" viewing parties - were confused by the sudden cut to black, with some even thinking their cable had gone out. It had been Chase's decision, whether good or bad, to leave his antihero's fate a question mark.Meanwhile, Gandolfini earned his fourth Emmy nomination for the role, entering the 2007 awards show as the odds-on favorite to win for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series. Many were surprised when he lost to James Spader of "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), who seemed shocked himself to beat the actor in his epic swan-song performance. Showcasing a very different side of his personality, Gandolfini executive-produced "Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq" (HBO, 2007), an HBO documentary in which he interviewed disabled veterans about their experiences in the Iraq War. After staying out of the spotlight for a well-deserved stretch of post-"Sopranos" peace, Gandolfini resurfaced on Broadway in Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage," a comedy about two sets of parents - Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden vs. Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis - attempting to solve a playground dispute between their children. Gandolfini was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance. While the show continued a strong run on Broadway, Gandolfini was on the big screen again, this time playing the mayor of New York in Tony Scott's remake of the 1974 classic thriller, "The Taking of Pelham 123" (2009). From there, Gandolfini was tapped to star as a military general in the indie satire about international relations between the U.S and England, "In the Loop" (2009). After voicing the introspective monster Carol in Spike Jonze's highly anticipated adaptation of the children's classic, "Where the Wild Things Are" (2009), Gandolfini played a father coping with death of his daughter who is brought back together with his estranged wife (Melissa Leo) after meeting a troubled young woman (Kristen Stewart) in the little-seen indie drama "Welcome to the Rileys" (2010). He followed up with a turn as a mysterious man who confronts two young assassins (Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel) in the action comedy "Violet & Daisy" (2011), before returning to the Mafia in for the indie crime thriller "Killing Them Softly" (2012), starring Brad Pitt as a professional enforcer who investigates the heist of a high-stakes, mob-protected poker game. Following a turn as CIA director Leon Panetta in "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012), Kathryn Bigelow's action thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Gandolfini reunited with David Chase for the director's feature debut, "Not Fade Away" (2012), which focused on a group of teens in 1960s New Jersey who form a rock band and try to make it big. While abroad in Italy during June of 2013, Gandolfini died suddenly, leaving his fans and admirers around the world stunned at the loss of such a singular actor. Emotional tributes from friends and peers immediately followed the news of his death, pointing to the profound effect that Gandolfini had in his many screen roles.