James Gandolfini, An Impossible Act to Follow

James Gandolfini, An Impossible Act to Follow

By McCarton Ackerman 06/20/13

The much-loved Sopranos star dies of a heart attack at 51, after a celebrated career and a history of drug problems and sobriety.

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The Boss is out. Photo via

James Gandolfini, the actor whose performances as Tony Soprano on The Sopranos from 1999-2007 changed perceptions of what was possible in a TV show, died yesterday of a heart attack while on vacation in Rome with his son Michael. He was 51 years old. Reports indicate that Michael saw his father go into cardiac arrest in their hotel room. Friends, colleagues and fans around the world have been paying tribute to the actor, whose terrifying, tortured mob boss is widely considered among the greatest ever TV characters. Sopranos co-creator David Chase called the New Jersey native "one of the greatest actors of this or any time."

Gandolfini's battles with drugs and alcohol, including some trips to rehab, surfaced after a 2002 "tell all" interview in the National Enquirer. Back then, he said his problems with cocaine and booze worsened after he married his first wife, Marcy, and that he "hit bottom" after the birth of their first child together in 1999. He declared himself clean and said he had begun his journey to sobriety three years earlier. (His spokesman Dan Klores later accused his ex-wife Marcy of leaking the story in order to get a better divorce settlement, and said substance abuse was something the actor had "taken care of," adding: "The guy has been drug-free for quite some time.") Gandolfini, who won three Emmys and a Golden Globe for his role on The Sopranos, also received a Tony nomination for a starring role in the 2009 Broadway play God of Carnage and was acclaimed for roles in films like True Romance, Zero Dark Thirty and Killing Them Softly. He is survived by his second wife, Deborah Lin, and their eight-month-old daughter, Liliana.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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