Actor James Gandolfini has died aged 51 (Reuters)
Actor James Gandolfini has died aged 51 (Reuters)

Tributes have been paid to James Gandolfini, the actor best known for playing Tony Soprano, who has died aged 51.

The actor died of a suspected heart attack whilst on holiday with in Rome, the US TV network HBO has confirmed.

He will be best remembered for his lead role as a New Jersey mafia boss in The Sopranos, which ran for six series and is widely considered to be one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

Gandolfini won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Tony Soprano before the show ended in 2007. He also appeared in a number of films such as True Romance and In The Loop.

Tributes have now been paid to the 51-year-old actor by stars across stage, screen and television.

David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, described Gandolfini as a "genius", telling TMZ: "Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that.

"He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times: 'You don't get it. You're like Mozart.' There would be silence at the other end of the phone."

James Gandolfini

His co-stars of the hit HBO TV show also paid their tributes.

Lorraine Bracco, who played Tony Soprano's psychiatrist, Dr Jennifer Melfi, in the TV drama, said: "We lost a giant today. I am utterly heartbroken".

Tony Sirico, who played Paulie, described Gandolfini as one of his best friends. He said: "He was there whenever I needed him. Not only did he help me with my career, but also in life, God bless him. He and I were always helping the troops, we even went to combat zones to visit the marines".

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, where the Sopranos was set, said: "It's an awful shock. James Gandolfini was a fine actor, a Rutgers [local university] alum and a true Jersey guy. I was a huge fan of his and the character he played so authentically, Tony Soprano.

"I have gotten to know Jimmy and many of the other actors in the Sopranos cast and I can say that each of them are an individual New Jersey treasure".

Fellow actors have also paid tribute to the "extraordinary actor" on Twitter.

Jonah Hill wrote: I'm truly heartbroken to hear that James Gandolfini has passed away. He is one of my all-time favourite actors. Tragic loss".

Ewan McGregor paid tribute by tweeting that "the world just lost one of its great actors".

Susan Sarandon added: "So sad to lose James Gandolfini. One of the sweetest, funniest, most generous actors I've ever worked with. Sending prayers to his family".

Gandolfini with the cast and crew of The Sopranos (Reuters)
Gandolfini with the cast and crew of The Sopranos (Reuters)

As well as being a well-known TV and film actor, Gandolfini also gained huge praise as a theatre actor. He was nominated for a Tony award in 2009 for his role in the Broadway hit God of Carnage.

Jeff Daniels, who starred with Gandolfini in the show, said: "If Broadway has a version of a guy you want in your foxhole, Jim Gandolfini was mine".

His managers said following confirmation of his death: "Our hearts are shattered and we will miss him deeply. He and his family were part of our family for many years and we are all grieving."

HBO described Gandolfini as a "beloved member of our family".

The network added: "He was 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."

The actor is survived by his wife Deborah Lin, with whom he had a daughter. He also has a teenage son from a previous marriage.

Video Clip - The Sopranos (contains strong language an violent scenes)