Nollywood

Actor James Gandolfini dies at 51

James Gandolfini The last photos taken of James Gandolfini show “The Sopranos” star dining in Rome, apparently relaxed and enjoying the company of others at an al fresco table.

The pictures were taken Tuesday night in the heart of the Eternal City. Less than 24 hours later, Gandolfini was dead.

In one photo, snapped by an American tourist sitting at a nearby table, the 51-year-old Gandolfini is dressed in a casual dark blue shirt, enjoying an evening meal at the Sabatini restaurant off Rome’s Piazza Santa Maria.

He appears to be eating a plate of the restaurant’s freshly made gnocchi as tourists stroll the piazza admiring a historic fountain.

Just five days earlier, a seemingly healthy and happy Gandolfini spoke excitedly about his upcoming father-son Italian vacation.

The Emmy-winning actor known worldwide for his role as Tony Soprano was stoked last Friday at an eighth-grade graduation party for his 13-year-old son, Michael, said family friend Carole Marini.

 Gandolfini “was amazing as usual,” Marini told the Daily News. “He seemed very healthy to me — walking around, laughing, smiling, showing his little baby girl to everybody.

“There was no sign of trouble,” added Marini, wife of “Dancing With the Stars” veteran Gilles Marini. “For us, it was a shock.”

After Gandolfini’s son found his dad in their room, doctors waged a desperate 40-minute battle to revive the hulking star before declaring him dead.

The extraordinary Wednesday night effort by medical teams in the ambulance and emergency room included heart massage — but they couldn’t save Gandolfini’s life.

“The patient was considered dead on arrival,” said Dr. Claudio Modini, the emergency room chief.

An autopsy was planned to determine if the 260-pound actor’s bulk or hard-partying past played any role in his sudden demise, as members of his HBO family continued to lavish praise on his life and work.

 Edie Falco, who played Tony Soprano’s suburban housewife, Carmela, said the Garden State gang couple was the Romeo and Juliet of organized crime.

“The love between Tony and Carmela was one of the greatest I’ve ever known,” she said in a statement.

“My heart goes out to his family, as those of us in his pretend one hold on to the memories of our intense and beautiful time together.”

Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who played daughter Meadow Soprano, sent her best wishes to Gandolfini’s widow and two kids.

 “This news has left me heartbroken,” she said. “I spent 10 years of my life studying and admiring one of the most brilliant actors, yes, but more importantly one of the greatest men.

“I treasure my memories with him and feel so honored that I was an up-close witness to his greatness.”

 “This news has left me heartbroken,” she said. “I spent 10 years of my life studying and admiring one of the most brilliant actors, yes, but more importantly one of the greatest men.

“I treasure my memories with him and feel so honored that I was an up-close witness to his greatness.”

 Bruce Springsteen, whose E Street Band includes Gandolfini’s TV consigliere Steven Van Zandt, played his classic “Born to Run” album in its entirety in the late actor’s memory at a show in Coventry, England.

Dominic Chianese, who played Uncle Junior Soprano, said news of Gandolfini’s death left him in tears.

“I cried because he was just a sweetheart,” the 82-year-old Chianese told The News. “He was a kind, compassionate and just a lovely, lovely man.”

 Chianese said that as an actor, Gandolfini was one of the best he’s ever worked with.

“I’ve been an actor for 60 years, and this guy always inspired me to do the best work I could do,” he said.

“Jimmy was an incredible actor to work with. He was easy. It was like watching a river flow.”

 There was no immediate word on plans for a wake or funeral, and U.S. Embassy officials said it could take up to a week for the return of his body to the United States.

Gandolfini, the son of Italian immigrants, was in Rome on a working vacation. He was scheduled to be at the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily, where he was to receive a special prize and appear at the closing ceremony with Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei.

A special tribute is now planned instead to honor Gandolfini, according to festival organizers.

“I felt like somebody kicked me in the stomach,” said Katherine Narducci, who played Charmaine Bucco on the HBO hit series.

 “I can tell you he was the most generous person in the world . . . I can’t believe that he’s gone.”

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