(ABC NEWS) -- James Gandolfini, the actor who most famously portrayed Tony Soprano on the series "The Sopranos," has died in Italy at age 51.
"It is with immense sorrow that we report our client James Gandolfini passed away today while on holiday in Rome, Italy," said his managers, Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders. "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."
Though he rose to his greatest fame with "The Sopranos," Gandolfini also had a long list of credits as a stage and film actor, largely in character and supporting roles.
He received a Tony nomination starring in the Broadway hit, "God of Carnage."
Recent film roles included his portrayal of CIA Director Leon Panetta in "Zero Dark Thirty." -- and he also appeared in "Killing Them Softly" and "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," and reunited with "Sopranos" creator David Chase to play the father of an aspiring musician in the film, "Not Fade Away."
"He was a genius. Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that," Chase said in a prepared statement this evening. "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. ... 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."
HBO, which broadcast "The Sopranos," said in a prepared statement, "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."
Born on Sept. 18, 1961 in Westwood, N.J., Gandolfini cultivated an interest in theater while he was still in high school, and then went on to study communications at Rutgers University.
There, he met celebrity chef Mario Batali, who became a lifelong friend.
"I am totally shocked and devastated by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends," Batali told ABC News. "I only hope to help his family any way I can in their grief and mourning."
Gandolfini is survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, his daughter Liliana, 8 months, and his son, Michael, from a previous marriage.
After getting his start in the 1987 film "Shock! Shock! Shock!" Gandolfini went on to play a Virgil, a mob-enforcer in "True Romance" in 1993 before landing the role of a lifetime, Tony Soprano, a few years later.
"Jimmy was a dear friend and like a brother to me. He was a great actor and a great father," adds his "Sopranos" co-star Steve Schirripa. "I will miss him terribly. I am very sad."
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