LOS ANGELES -- James Gandolfini, whose portrayal of a brutal, emotionally fragile 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 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," Armstrong and Sanders said.
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 series that aired from 1999 to 2007. His performance was indelible and career-making, but he refused to be stereotyped in other roles as the bulky mobster who was a therapy patient, family man and cold-blooded killer.
After the series concluded with its breathtaking ending that left viewers guessing, Gandolfini's varied film work included "Zero Dark Thirty" and comedies such as "In the Loop," a political satire. He voiced the Wild Thing Carol in "Where the Wild Things Are."
Gandolfini also 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 also was in "On the Waterfront" with David Morse.
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. "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."
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