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Actor James Gandolfini Dies At 51

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New Jersey native and former star of "The Sopranos" James Gandolfini has died.

Gandolfini died in Italy on Wednesday after suffering a heart attack, HBO and the late actor's managers confirmed. He was 51.

"It is with immense sorrow that we report our client James Gandolfini passed away today while on holiday in Rome, Italy.  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," Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders said in a statement.

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HBO followed suit, issuing a statement which read: "We're all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family.  He was 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.  He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility.  Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time.  He will be deeply missed by all of us."

Numerous A-list actors issued tweets honoring Gandolfini in the wake of the news of his death:

Steve Carell called Gandolfini's passing "a great loss," Albert Brooks called him, "One hell of an actor," and Rose McGowan called him " a gentle giant and a great man."

David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos," also released a statement:

"He was a genius. 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. For (his wife) Deborah and (son) Michael and (daughter) Lilliana this is crushing. And it's bad for the rest of the world. He wasn't easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can't explain and never will be able to explain."

And Gov. Chris Christie also offered his condolences in a statement, saying: "It's an awful shock. James Gandolfini was a fine actor, a Rutgers 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. Mary Pat and I express our deepest sympathies to Mr. Gandolfini's wife and children, and our prayers are with them at this terrible time."

As CBS 2's Dave Carlin reported Wednesday night, everything about Gandolfini seemed to be bright and bigger than life – much like the state of New Jersey, where he was raised and where the greatest role of his career was based.

Fans were looking back on their fond memories of "The Sopranos" Wednesday night, as they paid respects over a single candle at the fictional Sopranos home in North Caldwell, N.J.

"It brought a lot of families together on Sunday nights," fan Dave Norton told CBS 2's Derricke Dennis. "I know my family, we did -- we got together on Sunday nights, had dinner, and watched the show."

The owner of the home, Patty Recchia, was paying her respects, too.

"My husband did a great job building that house, and this house, and 'The Sopranos' put it in the map, so I'm happy about that," she said.

There were Jersey guys named Tony who were full of pride.

"I felt close to the show, for sure -- and this hit very hard," said Tony Serrao.

And at Satin Dolls in Lodi – known as the "Bada Bing" on the show -- word of Gandolfini's death spread fast. The phones inside rang off the hook.

"He actually made this bar, you know, people know it by 'The Bada Bing," said manager Lance Lyons.

Born Sept. 18, 1961, in Westwood, N.J., Gandolfini attended Rutgers University and worked as a bartender and nightclub manager, before he got his acting start in the New York theatre.

His debut on Broadway was in the 1992 production of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire," alongside Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin, IMDB recalled.

His breakthrough screen role was an appearance as Virgil the hit man in the 1993 movie "True Romance."

But he was best remembered as La Cosa Nostra boss Tony Soprano in the famed HBO series "The Sopranos," which ran from 1999 until 2007. He won three Emmy Awards for his work in the series.

When "The Sopranos," ended production, the notoriously press-shy star appeared in a string of movies -- including "Zero Dark Thirty," where he played the director of the CIA.

He also won rave reviews in the hit Broadway play "God of Carnage."

Gandolfini had most recently lived in Greenwich Village, where he made headlines in 2010 for helping dig out a driver whose car got stuck on an unplowed Bedford Street during the infamous December blizzard that year, according to published reports.

He was also one of many celebrities to appear at the 12-12-12 Concert for Superstorm Sandy relief at Madison Square Garden last year.

Gandolfini married former model Deborah Lin in Hawaii in 2008. She gave birth daughter Lilliana in October. Son Michael is from Gandolfini's previous marriage to Marcy Wudarski.

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