The death of James Gandolfini struck me like a thunderbolt, not only because he was the star of my all-time favorite television program, “The Sopranos,” but because he and I were the same age,

According to media reports, Gandolfini, 51, died of a heart attack in Rome.

Gandolfini, bald and overweight, found fame relatively late in life, and remained a dedicated actor and true artist. As fictitious New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, Gandolfini presented a radically new and different version of the mafia -- one in which a middle-class family man sought, perhaps in futility, to mix his murderous “career” with his home life.

I admired Gandolfini tremendously because he was press-shy and realized how lucky he was. I am only glad that his life ended in his ancestral homeland.

RIP, Mr. Gandolfini.