James Gandolfini Dies of Heart Attack; Sopranos Actor was 51

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The television world is in shock today over the sudden, unexpected death of James Gandolfini.

The veteran actor, best known for his award-winning portrayal of Tony Soprano, died of a heart attack at 51 years old. Deadline first confirmed the tragic news in an email from former HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht.

James Gandolfini Image

Said that network in a statement:

"We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family. 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. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us."

Gandolfini first rose to fame via a memorable role in 1993's True Romance. He also appeared in hit films such as Crimson Tide and Get Shorty, along with a turn in last year's Zero Dark Thirty, and earned a Tony Award nomination in 2009 for God of Carnage.

He had next signed in to star in BBC's Criminal Justice.

The actor is survived by his wife Deborah Lin; their 8-month-old daughter Liliana; his 14-year-old son Michael from a previous marriage).

“He was a genius," said Sopranos creator David Chase. "Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that… He is 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. For [Gandolfini's family] this is crushing. And it’s bad for the rest of the world. He wasn’t easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can’t explain and never will be able to explain.”

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.