James Gandolfini, the actor famous for his lead role in mob drama The Sopranos, has died in Italy.

The 51-year-old died on Wednesday in Rome, according to HBO and the actor’s managers Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders.

It is understood James was in Italy to attend the 59th Taormina Film Festival and it is believed he died of a suspected heart attack.

In a statement HBO called him a ‘special man, a great talent, but more importantly a gentle and loving person who treated everyone, no matter their title or position, with equal respect’.

“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,” James’s managers said.

James played conflicted mob boss Tony Soprano in the groundbreaking HBO series that screened from 1999 to 2007. After the series concluded with an ending that left viewers guessing, James’s varied film work took in comedy, with Armando Ianucci’s political satire In the Loop, and voiceover as the Wild Thing Carol in Where the Wild Things Are. His film credits also included Zero Dark Thirty and Killing Them Softly.

James shared a Broadway stage in 2009 with Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden in the celebrated production of God Of Carnage, for which he earned a Tony Award nomination for best actor.

Tributes poured in for the star who won three Emmy awards and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Tony and who The Sopranos creator David Chase described as ‘a genius’.

Actor Michael J Fox wrote on Twitter: “Shocked and saddened by James Gandolfini’s passing. My deepest sympathies to his family and friends,” while actress Lindsay Lohan wrote: “James Gandolfini was a dear friend and a great man. My heart goes out to his family. He will be greatly missed.”

Comedian Robin Williams tweeted: “My thoughts and prayers go out to James Gandolfini’s family. An extraordinary actor,” while actress Mia Farrow said: “Awful awful news. James Gandolfini will be missed. He was a great actor.”

Oscar winner Susan Sarandon tweeted: “So sad to lose James Gandolfini. One of the sweetest, funniest, most generous actors I’ve ever worked with.”

James is survived by his second wife, Deborah Lin, a former model from Hawaii, whom he married in 2008, and their daughter, Liliana, born last year.

He also leaves a teenage son, Michael, from his first marriage to Marcy Wudarski, his former personal assistant. They wed in 1999 and split three years later.