(CBS News) Emmy Award-winning actor, leaving behind wife Deborah, and two children. Hospital officials in Rome confirmed Thursday that he died of cardiac arrest. Dr. Claudio Modini of the Policlinic Umberto I hospital in Rome said the 51-year-old actor arrived at the hospital at 10:40 p.m. Wednesday night and was pronounced dead 20 minutes later after resuscitation attempts in the ambulance and at the hospital failed.
Italian news agency AGI reports that he suffered the heart attack in the bathroom of his hotel in Rome and that his 13-year-old son Michael alerted hotel staff after he found his father collapsed in the bathroom.
, an Italian-American raised in New Jersey, was set to attend the Taormina Film Festival this weekend in Sicily. The actor won three Emmy Awards for his portrayal of New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano in HBO's "The Sopranos" for six seasons. More recently, he was cast as CIA director Leon Panetta in the Oscar-nominated "Zero Darky Thirty" and performed on Broadway in "God of Carnage."
"The Sopranos" producer Brad Grey remembers Gandolfini as an unusual choice for the lead role in the series.
"In what world would you cast Jimmy Gandolfini to play the lead in a television series? Well, it worked that way and he was so good in the audition that you were so excited by it," Grey said in an interview with Charlie Rose.
During an Emmy acceptance speech, Gandolfini echoed this surprise at his unlikely stardom, joking, "I can't really explain this but I think the Academy has an affinity for slightly overweight, bald men."
The Hollywood Reporter's Lacey Rose said Gandolfini "changed the face of cable TV as a whole. There wouldn't be a Walter White or a Don Draper without Tony Soprano."
"The Sopranos" creator David Chase reiterated his acting "genius," likening Gandolfini to Mozart. "He is one of the greatest actor of this or any time," Chase said in a statement. "A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes."
But early remembrances of the late actor go beyond admiration for his professional achievements.
HBO released a statement following his death, describing him as a "special man, a great talent ... [and] a gentle and loving person."
"He was a great actor. Everything showed on his face, every little nuance," "Sopranos" co-star Dominic Chianese told CBS News' Bill Whitaker. "But you know, I miss him as a friend. He was a friend to everybody."