James Gandolfini, the 51-year-old former construction worker behind arguably the greatest performance in television history, died on Wednesday of a suspected heart attack. HBO confirmed the news shortly after initial reports broke. The commanding actor’s character on The Sopranos not only earned him stacks of awards and later success in film, but kept audiences glued to the television in a way that revolutionized how people around the world would create and consume the medium. Not bad for a former nomad who spent years coasting around New York chasing his acting dreams.
The New Yorker offers a snapshot of Gandolfini’s early life in an Italian-speaking home in Park Ridge, New Jersey, alongside video of some of his most powerful scenes from the six seasons he spent playing Tony Soprano. Critic Matt Zeitz shares memories culled from covering the actor for 15 years, while The AV Club takes a look at the entirety of his body of work, from the menacing Virgil in True Romance to former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in Zero Dark Thirty. “He was a genius,” said The Sopranos creator David Chase. “I remember telling him many times, ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’”