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TAORMINA, Sicily – The Taormina Film Festival was in mourning Thursday, June 20, after the death of 51-year-old actor James Gandolfini, who was scheduled to travel to the event to receive a special prize and participate in a round-table discussion about Italian-American views on cinema.
Gandolfini had been traveling in Italy — ahead of his anticipated arrival at the festival Thursday — to reconnect with his Italian roots, as Taormina artistic director Mario Sesti said in an interview. Sesti said he spoke to the actor just a few hours before his death.
“He was so happy to be in Italy, to reconnect with his Italian roots, and he was very excited to come to Taormina and receive this award,” Sesti said.
Tom Richardson, Gandolfini’s assistant, agreed: “The family had a marvelous day together, and when he returned to the hotel Jimmy [Gandolfini] went to the bathroom and that is when something happened,” Richardson said, adding that the actor was still alive when the ambulance arrived.
Indeed, family friend Michael Kobold told The Associated Press that Gandolfini had a “medical emergency” in his room.
Gandolfini’s teenage son, Michael, found his father collapsed in the bathroom, after he suffered a suspected heart attack, NBC News reports. Michael then called for help and hotel staff rushed to the room, according to NBC.
Workers reportedly tried to resuscitate him before the ambulance arrived.
The head of the emergency room at Rome’s Policlinic Umberto I,
Dr. Claudio Modini, told THR the hospital received the emergency call at 9 p.m. local time Wednesday, June 19, and that the first of two ambulances arrived within eight minutes. They again tried to revive Gandolfini and when they were unable to do so, they transported him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead at 10:40 p.m.
Modini told the AP that, as required by law, an autopsy would be performed 24 hours after Gandolfini’s death. Preliminary autopsy results are likely to be due on Friday, June 21, according to NBC News.
The U.S. Embassy will help prepare Gandolfini’s body for return to the United States.
Taormina festival officials said they found out about Gandolfini’s death after midnight and immediately began discussing how to honor the actor best known for his role as the star of The Sopranos.
“Gandolfini is probably less well known in Italy than in the United States, but he was an important figure in Italy,” Sesti said. “He was a big strong man, but also delicate and refined. And his weaknesses — women, emotion, family, a flirtation with taboo — these are things that we see in ourselves.”
The round table, which will feature Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino and actress Marisa Tomei, will still take place. But Sesti said Saturday, June 22, will be transformed into a special tribute to Gandolfini, including a Master Class Sesti will co-host with The Hollywood Reporter’s Eric J. Lyman. Saturday night, in the festival’s signature Teatro Antico venue, officials will screen a special video montage of several of Gandolfini’s best-known roles ahead of the international launch of Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, the festival’s closing film.
It is the second time in four years that the 59-year-old Taormina event has been connected to a tragic death as the result of a heart attack: In 2010, Hollywood Reporter film critic Peter Brunette died while on assignment at the festival.
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