NEW YORK — Family, friends and fans of actor James Gandolfini gathered at a Manhattan cathedral for his funeral on Thursday, a week after the 51-year-old star of the HBO television show “The Sopranos” died of a heart attack while visiting Rome.
Police set up barricades in front of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in upper Manhattan as fans waited to get a glimpse of mourners of the actor whose performance as the burly, cigar-smoking New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano made him a household name.
“He was just so friendly and sweet and humble,” actress Laila Robins, who played Tony Soprano's mother as a young woman in the early seasons of the show, said as she arrived for the funeral.
“He had an acting coach on set back then because he just wanted to do a good job. That was so sweet, and I remember that about him the most - just how badly he wanted to do a good job. He worked so hard.”
The dean of the cathedral, the Very Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski, will lead the 90-minute ceremony, HBO said in a statement. The actor's wife, Deborah Lin Gandolfini, will give a remembrance, along with friends Thomas Richardson, Susan Aston and David Chase, the creator and executive producer of “The Sopranos.”
On Wednesday about 100 people attended a private wake for the actor in New Jersey. Gandolfini, who was raised in a working-class neighborhood, shared Tony Soprano's Italian-American heritage and New Jersey roots.
Broadway theaters dimmed their marquees on Wednesday night in memory of the actor, who also had a successful stage career.
Gandolfini collapsed in the bathroom of his hotel room in Rome while vacationing with his 13-year-old son, Michael. He had been scheduled to attend the closing of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily. He body was flown to the United States on Sunday.
Gandolfini's portrayal of a gangster who ordered hits on his enemies and saw a therapist to talk about his insecurities, is the signature role of his career.
The role won him three Emmy Awards as best actor in a drama series. The show ran for six seasons.
In 2009 Gandolfini was nominated for a Tony Award for his role in “God of Carnage.” He also appeared in “On the Waterfront” in 1995 and “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1992.
The actor had been working on an upcoming HBO series, “Criminal Justice,” and has two films due out next year. He also appeared in the crime drama “Killing Them Softly” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” a film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Apart from his son Michael with his first wife, who he divorced in 2002, Gandolfini is survived by his wife and daughter Liliana, who was born last year.