Pop Culture

James Gandolfini's body returns to New Jersey

ROME -- The body of "The Sopranos" actor James Gandolfini arrived in the United States on Sunday night.

A plane carrying the Emmy Award winner arrived at New Jersey's Newark airport at 9:30 p.m. ET, according to a source. Earlier, airport authorities confirmed that he was flown out of the Rome's Fiumicino Airport aboard a private flight.

An HBO spokesperson speaking on behalf of the family told NBC New York that the funeral was scheduled for Thursday at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan.

Earlier, a family friend of the Gandolfinis had said the process of repatriation had been expedited with help from the Italian and U.S. authorities, including Secretary of State John Kerry.

"We are fully aware that this process usually takes seven days and we are extremely grateful for their efficiency in dealing with this matter," Michael Kobold said in a statement. "It has been our privilege to be guests in your beautiful country, despite the difficult circumstances."

Kobold had previously announced at a news conference Friday that an autopsy showed "The Sopranos" star died of a "heart attack of natural causes" and "nothing else was found in his system."

The 51-year-old suffered the heart attack in the bathroom of his room at the Hotel Boscolo in Rome while on vacation with his teenage son, Michael, and sister, Kobold told reporters.

"James came here on vacation with family," Kobold said. "On Wednesday he went to visit the Vatican, and had dinner at the hotel with his son while waiting for his sister ... All are devastated for his loss. He was a loving father."

"He was happy, healthy, on vacation with his son," Kobold said. "He was fine."

Medical staff attempted to resuscitate Gandofini after his son found him in the bathroom, but he was pronounced dead at about 11 p.m. local time (5 p.m. ET) Wednesday at Policlinico Umberto I hospital, which is a three-minute drive from the hotel.

Famous for his role as mob boss Tony Soprano in hit HBO show "The Sopranos," Gandolfini was on a celebratory trip to Italy with his 13-year-old son, who had just graduated from junior high school and won a soccer championship.

Experts said a heart attack was a common cause of death for a man in his 50s.

Dr. John Harold, president of the American College of Cardiology and a heart specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said that “in many patients who have a heart attack, the first symptom is sudden death and they don’t even make it to a hospital.”

  • Slideshow Photos

    Barry Wetcher / HBO

    Image:

    James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

    The award-winning actor made even brutal mob boss Tony Soprano seem likable, but that was far from his only role.

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    James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    He's the boss -

    James Gandolfini rose to fame as mob boss Tony Soprano on HBO's hit drama "The Sopranos," which ran from 1999 to 2007. He passed away on June 19.

    Michael Imperioli played his wife's cousin and Tony's own protege, Christopher Moltisanti. Gandolfini's character paved the way for other antiheroes to come, including "Breaking Bad's" Walter White, "Dexter's" Dexter Morgan and "Mad Men's" Jon Hamm, to name a few. All are highly flawed, but beloved by viewers.

    AP / AP
  • Cirque du Soleil's "Banana Shpeel" Opening Night

    James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    Family time -

    The actor attended the opening night of Cirque du Soleil's "Banana Shpeel" at the Beacon Theatre on May 19, 2010 in New York with his wife Deborah and son Michael. The teenager was the one who discovered Gandolfini collapsed in their hotel bathroom.

    WireImage / WireImage
  • Image: "Which Way Is The Frontline From Here?" New York Premiere - Reception

    James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    Supporting the troops -

    Gandolfini attended the New York premiere of HBO's documentary film "Which Way Is The Frontline From Here?" on April 10, 2013. The film follows the work of photographer Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Libya. Gandolfini himself produced two documentaries examining the difficulties facing America's soldiers and Marines.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' -

    As the wealthy owner of Bally's Casino, Gandolfini was very much in charge of the wacky magicians (including Steve Carell) who want to perform in his establishment in 2013's "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone." Reportedly, the actor traveled to Las Vegas to research his role.

    New Line Cinema / New Line Cinema
  • Image: FILE: According To Reports James Gandolfini Has Died

    James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    A few words -

    Gandolfini spoke onstage at the 2012 New York Film Critics Circle Awards at Crimson on Jan. 7, 2013, in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
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    James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    'Not Fade Away' -

    Gandolfini teamed up with "Sopranos" creator David Chase again for the 2012 film "Not Fade Away," in which he played, Pat, an Italian immigrant who was father to a young Italian-American with dreams of becoming a rock star in 1960s New Jersey.

    AP / AP
  • James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    'Zero Dark Thirty' -

    Though Gandolfini's character was named as only "CIA director" in the 2012 Oscar-nominated film, presumably he was playing Leon Panetta, who was in charge of the agency when Osama Bin Laden was killed, which was the subject of the film.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
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    James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    'Killing Them Softly' -

    Gandolfini starred alongside Brad Pitt as hitman Mickey Fallon in the 2012 crime film "Killing Them Softly."

    AP / AP
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    James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    'Welcome to the Rileys' -

    Gandolfini played Doug Riley, a father grieving the death of his daughter in the 2010 film "Welcome to the Rileys." Kristen Stewart played a 16-year-old stripper named Mallory with whom Doug moves in while he tries to put himself back together.

    AP / AP
  • Marcia Gay Harden, James Gandolfini

    James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    'God of Carnage' -

    James Gandolfini starred with Marcia Gay Harden on Broadway in "God of Carnage" in 2009. The role earned the actor a Tony nomination.

    AP / AP
  • James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    'Where the Wild Things Are' -

    Gandolfini has always been bigger than life, and in the 2009 adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are" it was even more true -- despite the fact that he never appeared in person on screen. Gandolfini voiced the head Wild Thing, named Carol (pictured with actor Max Records, who played Max).

    Warner Bros. Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures
  • James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    'Surviving Christmas' -

    In 2004's "Surviving Christmas," Gandolfini played a suburban father who clobbers Ben Affleck him with a shovel, but ends up having him over for the holiday.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    'The Man Who Wasn't There' -

    In 2001's neo-noir "The Man Who Wasn't There," Gandolfini (pictured with Katherine Borowitz) played "Big Dave" Brewster, a braggart who claims to have served in WWII's Pacific Theatre.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    'The Mexican' -

    In the 2001 comedy "The Mexican," Gandolfini played a sensitive, gay hitman who made it his business to protect Julia Roberts' Samantha.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Actor James Gandolfini holds his trophy for the "L

    James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    Golden night -

    Gandolfini won the Emmy for best lead actor in a drama series in 2000 for his role as Tony Soprano, an honor he would claim two more times. The actor also won a Golden Globe for best performance by an actor and three SAG awards for outstanding performance by a male actor, among many more honors.

    AFP/Getty Images / AFP/Getty Images
  • Image: Cast of "The Sopranos"

    James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

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    Mobster men -

    Tony Sirico (as Paulie), Michael Imperioli (as Christopher) and Steven Van Zandt (Silvio) starred as mob men who did the bidding of boss Tony Soprano (Gandolfini) in the HBO drama "The Sopranos."

    HBO / HBO

Tributes have flooded in for the actor, who won three Emmy Awards and three Screen Actors Guild awards for playing Soprano from 1999-2007.

He also appeared in a number of big-screen roles, including the crime drama "Killing Them Softly" and "Zero Dark Thirty," a film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow, who directed Gandolfini in “Zero Dark Thirty,” said she was devastated by the news of his death.

"James was such an enormous talent, and an even greater spirit. I will be forever grateful for the privilege of working with him, and shall cherish his memories always," she said in a statement.

Nicole Kidman said Gandolfini was “such a great actor,” describing his death as “a big loss.”

“Sending love and prayers to James’ family. He will be greatly missed,” she said in a statement to Eonline.com.

Brad Pitt described Gandolfini as “a ferocious actor, a gentle soul and a genuinely funny man." “I am fortunate to have sat across the table from him and am gutted by this loss.”

Gandolfini also made a good impression on the ordinary people he met.

An employee at the Hotel Boscolo told Italy's la Repubblica newspaper that during his stay the actor had signed autographs and was “very friendly with us from hotel's staff and with other guests in the restaurant. A nice person.”

NBC News' Ian Johnston, Reuters and Mads Frese contributed to this report.

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