It seemed like there was a collective gasp around the globe when James Gandolfini, star of The Sopranos, died suddenly 10 years ago at age 51.
Summer was just kicking off on Wednesday, June 19, 2013, when the news broke. James or "Jimmy" to friends, who won three Emmys playing iconic New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano, died while vacationing in Rome with his 13-year-old son, Michael, to celebrate the boy's 8th grade graduation. James had been scheduled to appear at the Taormina Film Fest in Sicily that week and receive an award.
The first reports noted it was an "apparent heart attack" — and after two days of speculation by tabloids due to reported past substance struggles — his rep confirmed that was the case. "Today we received the results of the autopsy, which stated he died of a heart attack, of natural causes," his family spokesperson Michael Kobold said at the time, noting that “nothing else was found in his system."
The spokesperson elaborated on the Killing Them Softly and Zero Dark Thirty star's final hours, saying he visited the Vatican and dined with his family at the Boscolo Exedra Hotel while awaiting the arrival of his sister. "He had a wonderful day," it was noted.
Michael — James's son with first wife, Marcy Wudarski Gandolfini — found him in the bathroom of his Rome hotel room, the star's manager, Mark Armstrong, said. He was taken from his hotel to the city's Umberto I hospital at 10:40 p.m., where doctors spent 40 minutes trying to resuscitate him despite being "considered dead on arrival."
It was almost six years to the date after his HBO's megahit The Sopranos ended.
Reactions from Sopranos cast and beyond
The world was stunned — and so was Hollywood. Tributes came in from all his Sopranos co-stars, many expressing "shock," including his on-screen wife Edie Falco ("a man of tremendous depth and sensitivity, with a kindness and generosity beyond words"), Michael Imperioli ("Jimmy treated us all like family with a generosity, loyalty and compassion that is rare in this world"), Tony Sirico ("one of my best friends in life"), Lorraine Bracco ("We lost a giant") and right down the list.
Brad Pitt, who co-starred with him the year before in Killing Them Softly and previously in The Mexican, called him "a ferocious actor, a gentle soul and a genuinely funny man. I am ... gutted by this loss." Steve Carell called him, "A fine man." Ewan McGregor said, "The world just lost one of its great actors." Susan Sarandon described him as, "One of the sweetest, funniest, most generous actors I've ever worked with." John Travolta, who shared a deep friendship with him, vowed to take care of his family, also including second wife Deborah Lin Gandolfini and their 8-month-old daughter, Liliana. Travolta said James flew to his side after his son Jett died in 2009.
A fitting sendoff
It was nearly a week before his body was flown back to the States. Bill and Hillary Clinton were instrumental in expediting the process. There was a private wake in New Jersey followed by a big funeral send-off at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan.
The Sopranos cast was in attendance, with creator David Chase eulogizing him in the form of a letter to the actor. He recalled James once told him, "'You know what I want to be? A man. That's all. I want to be a man.'" Chase said he always viewed the actor as a child, saying to his late friend, "You were a good boy... A sad boy, amazed and confused... You could see it in your eyes. That's why you were a great actor."
The star's wife, Deborah, called her husband "an honest, kind and loving man. He cared more about others than himself." Michael was a pallbearer. HBO reportedly paid for and filmed the funeral as a private gift to James's family.
Attendees included Falco, Imperioli, Bracco, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Steve Schirripa, Steve Buscemi, Aida Turturro, Dominic Chianese, Annabella Sciorra, Tony Sirico, Joe Pantoliano, Robert Iler, Julianna Margulies, Dustin Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Noth, Dick Cavett, Brian Williams and then-New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Cavett later wrote about the funeral in a New York Times opinion piece, recalling Turturro — who played Tony's sister, Janice, on The Sopranos — told him what made it even more unbearable was that "Jimmy was just beginning to enjoy his life." The actor who had never really come to terms with his stardom, declining to appear on any late-night talk shows and giving only rare interviews, and had deep insecurities, had turned down a movie this summer to spend much-needed time with his family.
Much was made after about the star's will and who got what from his estimated $70 million estate. His wife and two children received the bulk of it — he left millions to relatives, friends, his secretary and assistant as well — with Michael also getting all of his dad's clothing and jewelry. He had a lot of real estate, including a condo in NYC's West Village, a duplex penthouse in Tribeca, a $1.1 million home in Califon, N.J. and an estate in Italy that he wanted his kids to keep in the family.
Michael — who was by his father's side that fated day — went on to study acting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and followed in James's footsteps into acting. First it was small roles, like in Ocean's Eight (Bus Boy), before landing a role in The Deuce, a part he said that made him really fall in love with acting. He's gone on to pay tribute to his father and his iconic Sopranos role, playing "Teenage Tony Soprano" in The Many Saints of Newark.
Here's Michael's latest tribute for Father's Day 2023:
"My dad didn't want me to see Tony Soprano — the violence, the angry, the mean," Michael told Vanity Fair. "Of course I was on set and would visit him in his trailer, but I had never watched the show... I never knew Tony Soprano. I only knew my dad." Though he did say he had recorded hours of his dad's monologues opposite Bracco and walked around New York City listening to them.
When he finally did watch The Sopranos, Michael — now 24 — said it was an emotional experience, explaining, "Seeing my dad and seeing how good my dad was — which pissed me off in some regard and made me feel so proud," he told WSJ. Magazine. "I was so happy for him and also thinking back to growing up on the set. And then having to just clear all … the junk. All the crap … laughing so hard and crying. It felt so good to get it all out."
Deborah keeps a low profile raising Liliana, but has come together with her daughter, Michael and Michael's mother, Marcy, for public tributes to the late star through the years.
After The Many Saints of Newark came out, Deborah told the New York Post, "It was almost surreal to see Michael in the trailer. I know it took a lot of courage for him to take this role. It was very emotional. But the whole family is just so proud of him. His father would be very proud."
As for, Liliana — now 9 — her most recent public appearance seems to have been at Sopranos Con in 2019, which she went to with her mother and James's sister, Leta.
She posed in front of a giant image of her late dad with the event's official Instagram page shared, writing, "Words cannot express how humbled we are to have the support of the Gandolfini family."
Several members of James's Sopranos family shared remembrances to honor him 10 years after his death.
Chase reflected on the many losses of Sopranos cast members, but said James's death "is the hardest to accept... I got to work with a full-fledged genius. And though we irritated each other plenty, the whole thing creating with James was some kind of great dream. Besides, it was so much fun. Getting him to read for the part was hard, but finally he came over to my garage and we put it on tape. He's somewhere in the universe now, and I miss him."
Imperioli shared his favorite photos of them, saying they were "Batman and Robin." He said he "would love to have shot one more scene or had another laugh or one more late night chat. Forever grateful to have done so much work together, to have spent so much time in your company and for all the generosity and kindness."
Sigler and Will Janowitz recalled a "giggle fest" working with the late star. She said it was "one of my most favorite nights ever."