James Gandolfini

"Sopranos" Series Finale: James Gandolfini. photo: Craig Blankenhorn
Craig Blankenhorn
Three-time Emmy winner James Gandolfini played the role of troubled mob boss, Tony Soprano in the HBO hit series "Sopranos," which premiered in 1999.

The 45-year-old actor has portrayed the infamous criminal for eight years.

Gandolfini began acting in his mid-20s and became a little-known character actor before "The Sopranos" made him one of the most recognizable faces in television history.

Coincidentally, Gandolfini grew up in New Jersey, like his character. His father was a building maintenance chief at a Catholic school, and his mother was the cafeteria chief at another Catholic school. Both parents spent a majority of their childhood in Italy and therefore spoke a lot in their native tongue, though their son didn't carry on the tradition.

Photos: James Gandolfini
Gandolfini attended nearby Rutgers University and graduated with a degree in communications. When he was 19, Gandolfini's girlfriend of two years died in a car accident. He mentioned her in accepting his third Emmy, in 2003. Her death lead him to acting, which served as an outlet for his emotions.

After college, Gandolfini moved to New York, where he worked as a bartender, bouncer and nightclub manager. When he was 25, he joined an acquaintance in an acting class, which he continued for several years.

Gandolfini's big break was a Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" where he played Steve, one of Stanley Kowalski's poker buddies. His film debut came in Sidney Lumet's "A Stranger Among Us" (1992).

Gandolfini has been featured in supporting roles in "Crimson Tide"(1995), "True Romance" (1993), "Get Shorty" (1995), "The Juror" (1996), "Lumet's "Night Falls on Manhattan" (1997), "She's So Lovely" (1997), "Fallen" (1998) and "A Civil Action" (1998).

In between the "Sopranos" schedule, Gandolfini appeared in a number of movies, including comedies ("The Mexican," "Surviving Christmas," "Romance & Cigarettes"), an action movie ("The Last Castle"), the Coen brothers' "The Man Who Wasn't There" and last year's award-seeking flop "All the King's Men."

In his latest movie, "Lonely Hearts," Gandolfini co-starred with Salma Hayek and John Travolta. He switches to the other side of the law for the period crime drama.

Gandolfini will return to HBO this fall in a documentary about wounded soldiers' lives after serving in Iraq. The former "Sopranos" star is the executive producer of "Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq," for Attaboy Films, his production company, in conjunction with HBO Documentary Films.

The actor's biggest post-"Sopranos" project is a film about Ernest Hemingway, in which he plays the writer.

Gandolfini's personal life has been pretty rocky. Two months after the "Sopranos" premiered in 1999, he married public relations executive Marcella Wudarski. They had a son, Michael, in May of that year, and moved out of Manhattan into a five-acre New Jersey home in 2001.

The marriage was short-lived and in March 2002, Gandolfini filed for divorce. The proceedings stirred up allegations from Wudarski of cocaine and alcohol abuse by Gandolfini. In 2004, he became engaged to writer Lora Somoza, but the couple split in early 2005.