James Ganolfini as Tony Soprano from the Hit HBO series. He died suddenly today June 19.

James Ganolfini as Tony Soprano from the Hit HBO series. He died suddenly today June 19.

James Gandolfini, who enthralled audiences as the murderous mob boss, with a soft touch for animals, in the hit HBO series “The Supranos,” died suddenly today while traveling in Italy. He is believed to have suffered a heart attack, although no official confirmation has been forth coming. He was 51.

“It is with immense sorrow that we report our client James Gandolfini passed away today while on holiday in Rome, Italy,” said his management in a statement to the media.

“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.”

Gandolfini was largely an unknown character actor before he landed the role as a tough New Jersey mobster, but he shot to stardom with his portrayal of the highly complex character.

Tony Soprano was at times ruthless and cold blooded yet he struggled with the everyday problems like the travails of trying to raise a family in suburban New Jersey. Gandolfini capture all of the conflicting forces and portrayed them with aplomb.

The show debuted in 1999 and he won three Emmys for “Best Actor in a Drama.” After the series ended in 2007, Ganolfini went on to star in a number of major productions and indie films, including a part as Kristen Stewart’s adoptive parent in 2010’s “Welcome to the Rileys.”

More recently, he appeared in the controversial film “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the CIA’s hunt for terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.

He also filmed “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” and “Nicky Deuce,” both slated for this year and just finished shooting a movie called “Animal Rescue.”

Gandolfini was reportedly on vacation in Rome and was touring Italy. He was scheduled to make an appearance at the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily where he was scheduled Thursday (June 20) to participate in a panel discussion with Italian director Gabriele Muccino.

He came from a decidely blue collar background. He was born in Westwood, NJ, where his mother, Santa, was a high school lunchroom worker. His father was born in Borgotaro, Italy, and worked as a bricklayer, cement mason, and later as head custodian of Paramus Catholic High School.

Because both his parents spoke Italian at home, Gandolfini strongly identified with the country and visited there frequently.

He’s survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, and son Michael, from a previous marriage.