Actor James Gandolfini dies in Italy at age 51

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LOS ANGELES — James Gandolfini’s lumbering, brutish mob boss with the tortured psyche will endure as one of TV’s indelible characters.

But his portrayal of criminal Tony Soprano in HBO’s landmark drama series “The Sopranos” was just one facet of an actor who created a rich legacy of film and stage work in a life cut short.

Gandolfini, 51, who died Wednesday while vacationing in Rome, refused to be bound by his star-making role in the HBO series that brought him three Emmy Awards during its six-season run.

No cause of death was given by HBO and Gandolfini’s managers Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders in a joint statement confirming his death.

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.”

Joe Gannascoli, who played Vito Spatafore on the drama series, said he was shocked and heartbroken.

“Fifty-one and leaves a kid — he was newly married. His son is fatherless now. ... It’s way too young,” Gannascoli said.

Gandolfini and his wife, Deborah, who were married in 2008, have a daughter, Liliana, born last year, HBO said.

The actor and his former wife, Marcy, have a teenage son, Michael.

Gandolfini’s performance in “The Sopranos” was his ticket to fame, but he evaded being stereotyped as a mobster after the drama’s breathtaking blackout ending in 2007.

He was mourned online in a flood of celebrity comments. “The great James Gandolfini passed away today. Only 51. I can’t believe it,” Bette Midler posted on her Twitter account.

“An extraordinary actor. RIP, Mr. Gandolfini,” Robin Williams tweeted.

Slim Whitman, country singer, dies at 90

The down-on-his-luck singer sat on the steps of Nashville’s famed Grand Ole Opry, bemoaning the job he’d just lost at a radio station, when out walked country legend Hank Williams.

The celebrated but troubled singer and songwriter, who had just been fired from the Louisiana Hayride radio show in 1949, suggested they apply for each other’s former jobs.

“Just go down there and give them all you’ve got,” Williams told cowboy balladeer Slim Whitman, who died Wednesday of heart failure outside Jacksonville, Fla. He was 90.

Williams’ advice worked out beautifully for Whitman, the yodeling singer who parlayed his string of 1950s country hits into even greater commercial success and broad-based recognition three decades later through a savvy telemarketing campaign for his recordings.

Those ads turned Whitman into both a beloved and much-lampooned symbol of an earlier age of western music.

Whitman wanted to be remembered “as a nice guy — with a white hat,” he had said in the AP interview. “I don’t think you’ve ever heard anything bad about me, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Frank Langella to play ‘King Lear’ in Brooklyn

NEW YORK — Frank Langella will be taking on one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles — King Lear — and letting audiences in two countries see it.

Producers said Thursday Langella will debut his Lear at Britain’s Chichester Festival Theatre this autumn and then take it to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York early next year.

“King Lear” will be directed by Chichester’s Associate Director Angus Jackson.

It will run at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester from Oct. 31-Nov. 30 and then in Brooklyn from Jan. 7-Feb. 9.

Langella was most recently seen in Terrance Rattigan’s “Man and Boy” on Broadway. He has won three Tony Awards, most notably as Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon,” a role he later recreated for the 2008 film version, earning an Oscar nomination.

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