James Gandolfini
Actor, producer
Born: September 18, 1961, in Westwood, New Jersey
Died: June 19, 2013, in Rome, Italy
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2014: Performing Arts

James Gandolfini amassed more than 50 film and TV acting credits in his career, but in retrospect only one role really matters: Tony Soprano.

Gandolfini created the character of the tough-talking but vulnerable Jersey mob boss for the groundbreaking HBO series “The Sopranos,” which debuted in 1999 and ran for six seasons on HBO.

When it came to playing a complex Jersey Italian, Gandolfini was the real deal. His father was an Italian immigrant, who worked as a laborer and as head custodian at Paramus Catholic High School. His mother, who was both in America but raised in Naples, Italy, was a high-school food-service worker.

Gandolfini grew up in the Bergen County borough of Park Ridge and attended Park Ridge High School, where he played basketball and acted in school plays. He went on to Rutgers University, graduating in 1983 with a communications degree. Intent on a career in show business, Gandolfini moved to New York City, where he worked as a bouncer and bartender and started taking acting classes.

His acting career began with parts in small-budget films and on Broadway, where he had supporting roles in revivals of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “On the Waterfront” (as Charley Malloy). Early on, he was cast as a tough guy in films like the 1993 romantic thriller “True Romance.” He played a Russian mobster in 1994’s “Terminal Velocity,” and had notable roles in “Crimson Tide” (1994), “Get Shorty” (1995), and “The Juror” (1996, as a mob enforcer).

Gandolfini was still largely an unknown when writer/producer David Chase picked him to create the character of Tony Soprano, an endearing anti-hero prone to fits of violence. For his work in “The Sopranos” from 1999-2007, Gandolfini won three Emmys as outstanding lead actor in a drama; he was nominated six times. He also won a Golden Globe and three Screen Actors Guild awards. Along the way, he became a global icon and one of TV’s highest-paid actors.

After “The Sopranos,” there were more roles as tough guys. He was nominated for a Tony Award in 2009 for his starring role as an angry parent in Broadway’s “God of Carnage.” He played the director of the CIA in the film “Zero Dark Thirty” and a hit man in the thriller “Killing Them Softly”—both released in 2012.

Gandolfini had a social-activist side, too. In 2007, he produced “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq,” an HBO documentary about injured Iraq War veterans. In 2010, he again collaborated with HBO for the documentary “Wartorn: 1861-2010,” about the history of PTSD in the military.

A heart attack cut short Gandolfini’s life at age 51 while he was on vacation in Italy. His final two films, the romantic comedy “Enough Said” and the crime drama “The Drop,” were released posthumously.

At his Hall of Fame induction in 2014, his friend and fellow “Sopranos” cast member Vincent Curatola described Gandolfini as a “self-effacing, humble man of the people.”

Intro/Acceptance Video