James Gandolfini Was a 'Special Man' and a 'Great Talent': Collaborators Remember the Actor

5:21 PM PST 06/19/2013 by Kimberly Nordyke
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James Gandolfini

UPDATED: David Chase, Brad Grey, Journey and Lorraine Bracco
 also are among those paying tribute to the "Sopranos" star, who died Wednesday of a heart attack in Rome at age 51.

HBO staffers were among those mourning the loss of James Gandolfini, star of the network's smash drama The Sopranos, who died suddenly.

Gandolfini died Wednesday of a heart attack in Rome at age 51.

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“He was a genius. Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that," said Sopranos showrunner David Chase in a statement. "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 Deborah and Michael and Liliana 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.”

Said HBO: "We're all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family. He was 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. 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."

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Gandolfini played New Jersey mafia boss Tony Soprano for six seasons from 1999-2007, winning three Emmys for best actor in a drama (out of six nominations total). The show was a linchpin of the premium cable network.

Gandolfini was said to be overseas to attend the 59th Taormina Film Festival in Sicily, where he was scheduled to participate in a festival event this weekend with Italian director Gabriele Muccino.

His managers also mourned his death in a joint statement.

"It is with immense sorrow that we report our client James Gandolfini passed away today while on holiday in Rome, Italy," Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders said. "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."

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Chris Albrecht, the former chairman and CEO of HBO who helped developed The Sopranos, also expressed his shock and sadness at Gandolfini's death.

"Jimmy was the spiritual core of our Sopranos family, and I am stunned at this devastating loss," Albrecht, who is now CEO of Starz, said in a statement. "He was a great talent but an even better man. My thoughts are with his family.”

Brad Grey, who served as executive producer of Sopranos while at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, also praised Gandolfini in a statement. (Grey is now chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures.)

“Jimmy was one of the most talented, authentic and vulnerable actors of our time," he said. "He was unorthodox and truly special in so many ways. He had the sex appeal of Steve McQueen or Brando in his prime as well as the comedic genius of Jackie Gleason. I’m proud to have been his friend and grateful for the extraordinary years I was lucky enough to work with him. My heart and support goes out to his wonderful and loving family.”

Journey, whose hit song "Don't Stop Believin'" was memorably used in the last moments of series finale of The Sopranos, also passed on their condolences.

"It's truly an honor to have been able to share one of the greatest moments ever in TV history with James Gandolfini," the band said in a statement. "He was an amazing actor -- taken way too young -- and he'll be missed. Our condolences go out to his family."

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Gandolfini had completed a role in Nicole Holofcener's next film, Enough Said, which Fox Searchlight plans to release in 2014. The movie stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a divorced woman who strikes up a new friendship with another woman, played by Catherine Keener, who helps her restore her self-confidence. Louis-Dreyfus' character then falls in love with a man, played by Gandolfini, who turns out to be her new friend's ex-husband.

"I'm heartbroken," the director said. "He was a lovely man, and I was honored to know him."

Said his Sopranos co-star Lorraine Bracco: "We lost a giant today. I am utterly heartbroken."

His former God of Carnage co-star Jeff Daniels also released a statement of his own.

“If Broadway has a version of a guy you want in your foxhole, Jim Gandolfini was mine," he said. "During our time together in God of Carnage, we played 320 performances together. He didn't miss one. Sadly, I now miss him like a brother.”

Added writer-director-producer Steve Zaillian: "I worked with Jim before The Sopranos and after it, and throughout these many years he has always been the same man. A real man, like they don’t make anymore. Honest, humble, loyal, complicated, as grateful for his success as he was unaffected by it, as respectful as he was respected, as generous as he was gifted. He was big, but even bigger-hearted. I’m so saddened to lose my friend, and sadder still for his family."

Terence Winter, formerly executive producer and a writer on the HBO classic, said: "I'm truly crushed at the passing of my friend Jim Gandolfini. He was a gifted, fearless actor, respectful of everyone he met, and extraordinarily generous in every possible way. My heart goes out to his wife and children."

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His True Romance co-star Patricia Arquette also remembered the actor in a statement.

"My heart goes out to his family," she said. "James was incredibly talented, and I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to work with him. He was very committed during the shooting of True Romance. I remember Tony Scott saying he slept in his suit in his car to stay in character. His work as Tony Soprano was flawless. It is a real loss to the creative community."

Brad Pitt, who also worked with Gandolfini on 1993's True Romance in addition to The Mexican (2001) and Killing Them Softly (2012), told THR: "I admire Jimmy as a ferocious actor, a gentle soul and a genuinely funny man. I am fortunate to have sat across the table from him and am gutted by this loss. I wish his family strength and some semblance of peace."

On Thursday, Gandolfini's Sopranos co-stars Michael Imperioli, Edie Falco and Jamie-Lynn Sigler released statements of mourning. 

Said Falco: "I am shocked and devastated by Jim's passing. He was a man of tremendous depth and sensitivity, with a kindness and generosity beyond words. I consider myself very lucky to have spent 10 years as his close colleague. My heart goes out to his family. As those of us in his pretend one hold on to the memories of our intense and beautiful time together. The love between Tony and Carmela was one of the greatest I've ever known."

Added Imperioli: "Jimmy treated us all like family with a generosity, loyalty and compassion that is rare in this world.. Working with him was a pleasure and a privilege. I will be forever grateful having had a friend the likes of Jimmy.. ."

Said Sigler: "This news has left me heartbroken. I can only imagine the pain his family feels at this time, and my heart goes out to them, especially Deborah, Michael and Liliana. I spent 10 years of my life studying and admiring one of the most brilliant actors , yes, but more importantly one of the greatest men. Jim had the ability, unbeknownst to him, to make you feel like everything would be alright if he was around. I treasure my memories with him and feel so honored that I was an up close witness to his greatness."

And Aida Turturro, who played Tony Soprano's sister Janice, also chimed in, saying: "I’ve not only lost a great friend, but a true brother, on screen and off. James was the most generous actor to work with, but more so, a man with a heart of gold. I love him and my heart goes out to his family."

Soprano's co-star Drea de Matteo said: "Fughedabout losing one of the best actors of our time... we lost so much more... anyone from the Soprano family will tell you he was one of the most generous, real and humble human beings ever, with a presence that could shatter planets when he walked into a room. A King through-n-through. So very sorry for his family."

Kathryn Bigelow, who directed Gandolfini in her acclaimed and controversial 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty, said in a statement: "I am simply devastated. James was such an enormous talent, and an even greater spirit. I will be forever grateful for the privilege of working with him, and shall cherish his memories always."

Geoffrey Fletcher, who directed Gandolfini in the indie Violet & Daisy, said: "My heart goes out to his lovely wife and children. We all know about The Sopranos, but I was just as familiar with his other screen work and  I never saw a false note in any of it. Ever. For the record, Tony  Soprano was a character Jim crafted, not the man he was. Not even close. Few actors could hold the camera's gaze like Jim did. Marlon Brando  was one of those actors. I needed a talent who could be riveting while still. That was Jim.

"Right now, I'm thinking about all the great work that was yet to come from him. Some consolation comes from the fact that, if you look closely, he did everything already. A good man and a great artist is gone. He was a dedicated, generous and humble genius who never knew how brilliant he was. Thank you James Gandolfini. You were one of a kind."

Added Violet & Daisy co-star, Saoirse Ronan: "Jim was the kindest man who adored family. He was the best teacher any young actor could ask for and I can't believe he's gone. All my love to his family and his dear son, Michael."

Gregg Kilday, Mike Barnes and Sophie Schillaci contributed to this report.

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