James Gandolfini dies at 51: five things you might not know

JAMES GANDOLFINI has died of a suspected heart attack at the age of 51. The Emmy Award-winning actor was on holiday in Italy, preparing to attend the Taormina film festival in Sicily later this month. Gandolfini shot to fame as Tony Soprano, the tough mafia boss who visits a psychiatrist after suffering panic attacks, in The Sopranos. Here are five things you might not know about him:

He worked as a truck driver, bouncer and nightclub manager: Gandolfini was born in 1961 in New Jersey to parents of Italian descent. His mother was a school dinner lady and his father was a bricklayer-turned-school caretaker. While living in New York he tried various occupations, including truck driving, bartending and working as a nightclub manager and bouncer. It wasn't until a friend took him to an acting class that Gandolfini found his calling. "I'd never been around actors before," he told Time magazine, "and I said to myself: 'These people are nuts; this is kind of interesting.' "

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He made his Broadway debut in 1992: Gandolfini played Steve Hubbell in A Streetcar Named Desire, alongside Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange. His Hollywood breakthrough came a year later when he took up the role of Virgil in Tony Scott's True Romance, although it wasn't until 1999, when David Chase cast him as Tony Soprano, that he became a household name. In 2009 he returned to Broadway to play an angry Brooklyn parent in the drama God of Carnage, for which he received a Tony Award nomination.

He produced documentaries: According to the Hollywood Reporter, a visit to the front lines in Iraq left Gandolfini deeply moved by the struggles facing war veterans. In 2007 he produced the documentary Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq, exploring the impact of the day a wounded soldier narrowly escaped death. Three years later Gandolfini was the executive producer for Wartorn: 1861-2010, a film about the history of post-traumatic stress in the military.

He used the Meisner technique: Gandolfini studied Meisner, an acting method that helps actors access their emotions, for two years. Using the technique, he said, allowed him to focus his anger and incorporate it into his performances. The New York Times reports that Gandolfini would often deliberately hit himself on the head or stay up all night to create the anger. "If you are tired, every single thing that somebody does makes you mad," he said. "It's silly, but it works."

He had two children: In 1999 he married his former personal assistant Marcy Wudarski, with whom he had a son, Michael, but the couple divorced three years later. In 2008 he married his second wife, Deborah Lin, a former model from Hawaii. In October 2012 she gave birth to their daughter, Liliana. · 

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