The entertainment world is in shock after learning of the passing of actor James Gandolfini.

On Wednesday, Gandolfini died at age 51 after suffering cardiac arrest while vacationing in Rome.

Dr. Claudio Modini, head of the emergency room at the Policlinic Umberto I hospital, said Gandolfini arrived at the hospital at 10:20 p.m. Wednesday and was pronounced dead at 11 p.m. after reanimation efforts in the ambulance and hospital failed.

Modini told The Associated Press on Thursday that an autopsy would be performed starting 24 hours after the death, as required by law.

The actor, best known for his role as tormented mobster Tony Soprano, was celebrated for performances on TV, on stage and in films that reached beyond the obvious triumph of "The Sopranos" and the unsought celebrity it brought him.

"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,” David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos," said in a statement following Gandolfini’s passing.

“A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. He was my partner. ... He was my brother in ways I can't explain and never will be able to explain."

"I have lost a brother and a best friend. The world has lost one of the greatest actors of all time,” wrote his former “Sopranos” co-star Steven Van Zandt.

Joe Gannascoli, who played Vito Spatafore on show, added, "Fifty-one and leaves a kid -- he was newly married. His son is fatherless now ... It's way too young."

An actor who shrank from attention for anything but the roles he brought to life, the flood of tributes surrounding his untimely death would likely have strike Gandolfini  as excessive and needless, upstaging for a moment his lifetime of work.

"I'm much more comfortable doing smaller things," he declared not long ago.

And in the past year, his film appearances included supporting (or smaller) roles in Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden manhunt docudrama "Zero Dark Thirty," ''Sopranos" creator David Chase's '60s period drama "Not Fade Away," and Andrew Dominick's crime flick "Killing Them Softly."

It was all part of an acting career as unlikely to which TV has given rise.

By the end of the ''Sopranos" run, Gandolfini was suitably grateful for the role he had embodied for six seasons. But he had lent such authenticity to Tony that the character by then weighed heavily upon him. No actor stops identifying with the character he plays, no matter how repellant or villainous. An actor is required to be complicit with the man he portrays.

It was a remarkable admission by Gandolfini as he looked ahead, brightly, to new challenges.

"I don't even think I've proven myself, yet," he said. "I have yet to begin the fight, I think."

In that rare interview, Gandolfini, famously press-shy ever since "The Sopranos" blindsided him with stardom, was as gracious as he was uncomfortable discussing himself.

There was one too many questions delving into his acting process.

"Oh, please! Who gives a crap!" he scoffed (though he didn't say "crap"). Then he quickly apologized. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to be abrupt."

Despite his formidable presence in person as on film, there was no confusing him with Tony Soprano.

He was his own man, down-to-earth, accommodating — and no-nonsense when it counted.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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