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PIERS MORGAN LIVE

James Gandolfini Dead at 51

Aired June 19, 2013 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: This is PIERS MORGAN LIVE. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Tonight breaking news and very sad breaking news it is to the death of an American superstar in every sense. James Gandolfini has died at the age of 51 reportedly of a heart attack while he was traveling in Italy.

James Gandolfini did what would have been impossible of most actors, make Americans and the world love a mob boss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES GANDOLFINI, ACTOR: To my health, to being in this beautiful spot with people that I love. I couldn't ask for more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Salute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: It was a role that made him a superstar. Tony Soprano, in HBO's "The Sopranos." Here's another moment from that classic series.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GANDOLFINI: You know why we're here, so any doubts of reservations, now is the time to say so. No one will think any less of you because once you enter this family, there's no getting out. This family comes before everything else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: One of the greatest of all TV characters, perhaps the greatest that part won James Gandolfini three Emmy Awards. We have much more tonight on his extraordinary life and career.

But I want to begin with Bill Carter. He covers television for "The New York Times." He interviewed James Gandolfini and remembers him as a huge talent with no pretentions.

Bill Carter, it's a real shock. He was only 51, at the peak of his acting powers. What is your reaction to the death of James Gandolfini? BILL CARTER, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: I have to say I'm really stunned. I -- you know, did speak to him on many occasions and he was a warm guy, you know, he was not a great interview because he was sort of reserved, and not at all like his charter. But, you know, full of life. I mean, the guy was just a force, a tremendous physical force and really a superb talent. I mean, the guy was -- this performance as Tony Soprano, I mean, it changed television.

Really television has changed dramatically because of this and really I think the center point of dramatic acting shifted from movies to television because of him. I mean, he just changed the way people regard television and actors came to television because they could perform at this level after watching him.

MORGAN: What was interesting about him, I met him a couple of times, he was pretty shy actually when you met him in the flesh, very modest, very reserved in many ways as you hinted there in terms of interviews. But very, very different to the charter he played in the "Sopranos" and yet the character became this absolutely theatrical tour de force.

Where would you rank him, Bill? The charter Tony Soprano in the lexicon of television?

CARTER: I think it's at the top because I think, you know, television forever was, you know, consumed with creating a lead charter who would be, you know, likable and I think he made him -- he made this incredibly scary guy, who in many ways, extremely likable at the same time. It was a really nuance performance and fully fleshed out.

I mean, you know, he had tremendous vulnerabilities, the whole thing with going to a psychiatrist and torments in his own family. You know, his mother and his children. It was really a full fleshed performance and I don't think we'd ever seen anything like that before and I don't think we'll ever see anything like it again. I mean, I think we see great performances but this was a breakthrough, this was a changing performance, and nothing was quite the same in television after this show.

MORGAN: We have a statement just in, actually, from David Chase, obviously the creator of "Sopranos." He said he was a genius. Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He's one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times you don't get it, you're like Mozart. There will be silence on the other phone for Deborah, and Michael and Liliana, this is crushing and it's bad for the rest of the world. He wasn't easy sometimes but he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can't explain, and never will be able to explain."

David Chase there, the creator of "The Sopranos." Very moving words there, Bill. I mean --

CARTER: Yes.

MORGAN: I've been struck by the extraordinary outpouring of tributes and grief on Twitter and Facebook, really a lot of people seem to have been really affected by this.

CARTER: Well, you know, this is an amazing story. This show when it started out, it was an HBO show, no one knew anything about it. It -- you know, it was supposedly about a mobster but it sounded like an opera show because it was called "The Sopranos." And this actor was unknown. No one knew who he was. The show had been rejected by FOX. It was -- had been pitched to them and here it was and it suddenly became this most-talked about show, and grew to an enormous level.

I mean, HBO is only seen in about a third of the televisions in homes in America. And it would have 11 million, 13 million people watching these episodes. It was a cultural phenomenon and just drove the talk of, you know, television and the entertainment industry for all the years that it was on.

MORGAN: He did a remarkable interview for -- in the Actor's Studio, which if you haven't seen it should get on YouTube and watch it because he really was someone that took the craft of acting incredibly seriously and he agonized about it, didn't he? I mean, whenever I read interviews with him, it was this constant pursuit of perfection. He was never happy.

CARTER: No. And he didn't seem like a very happy guy because of that. He seems sort of tormented about it. You know, he and Chase did not seem -- I did a double interview with them right before the show ended, and I spent a whole day with them on the set, and he and Chase were like partners, but they did not seem like they were like close friends. It was like he had created this character and it was almost like he was challenging Chase a little bit to bring out more of this character.

I mean, he was a really difficult guy in some ways. I think Chase sort of alluded to that. He had some demons, there's no question about that. But I mean, he just had an enormous wellspring of talent and it wasn't because he started out because he wanted to be an actor. I think he'd been a truck driver, you know, until he was like 25 years old and then he just found this calling. And boy, he was devoted to it.

MORGAN: What was particularly sad, Bill, is he was -- in his second marriage, he's had a young baby daughter born last year and in terms of his acting, he'd moved on from "The Sopranos" and was taking on big roles. And it just seems to have come at this crushingly awful time, professionally and personally when he could, I suspect, probably never been happier.

CARTER: No, I think that's true and I think, you know, he -- I think he felt very close to this, you know, new family of his. I think he really had big ideas for things to do. You know, he had been a star on Broadway after "The Sopranos." He picked very interesting roles. He never took the more conventional things. I think he took some smaller roles. You're surprised all of a sudden you see James Gandolfini in a part.

He was in a -- he actually accepted a new role on an HBO show that I've seen the pilot for which was extraordinary and I was sort of really looking forward to that. You know, it's just a shame to be taken away from because I think he had years, years of great performances in it.

MORGAN: Yes, I mean, you could argue decades. He's 51 years old. I mean, he was -- he was in "Zero Dark 30", of course, a huge successful movie. And in almost every movie that I saw him in, all television show, even outside of "The Sopranos," he had this kind of dominant physical presence, didn't he? And personality that came through.

CARTER: Piers, I've rarely been with a guy who was more physically imposing than this guy. I mean, guys might have been bigger but this guy was like a building. And he was -- he was so big and he put his arm around me once. I have a picture of him and it looks like, you know, I'm standing next to a mountain. I mean, he was such a physical presence. And in the pilot of the "Sopranos," Chase told a story about him, he had to like at one point, you know, confront Christopher, his -- his nephew and in the scene he all of a sudden picked him up physically and threw him, completely unexpectedly to Chase.

And he was like, oh my gosh, because it was perfect to say, wow, this is a scary guy. He could be a really scary, scary guy physically. He would really intimidate people, which was perfect for that part.

MORGAN: Absolutely. Bill Carter, thank you so much for joining me.

CARTER: Nice to be with you, Piers.

MORGAN: And for viewers just tuning in, the very sad breaking news of the death of James Gandolfini, the star, of course, of the sopranos, who's died at the age of 51. He was in Italy, we believe, on a private holiday. And he died today.

I want to bring in our CNN's Nischelle Turner and Dr. Sanjay Gupta who are both in New York. Also Larry King is on the phone.

I want to start with you, Larry. You were at a function in Las Vegas several week ace go with James Gandolfini. What kind of shape was he in there?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING NOW": He was -- he was in a jovial mood, Piers. He was -- we had a great time. It was a dinner honoring Mohammed Ali. He was a big fan of Ali's. And we were at the same table. It was a big black tie dinner. And he felt really wonderful. He had had a marvelous career, he has successful play on Broadway.

He was -- the interesting thing about him, Piers, was that he was a great character actor and character actors rarely become stars. And "The Sopranos" made him -- made him of course a star. But he's a well versed character. Acted for years, he did a lot of wonderful films, a lot plays, very theatrical.

And that night he was in a movie, terrific movie. They had a big auction. And the guy sitting next to me bid $250,000 -- I think $275,000 for a cruise to the Mediterranean and he won the bid and he said to James, you want to go with me? And Gandolfini said, yes, I'll go.

(LAUGHTER)

He says, yes, I'll go. He was just really good. I think he was smoking a cigar and he was, of course, really overweight. We don't know what he died of yet. I don't like to speculate but when you see a guy that size at age 51, no previous things about anything you would normally think the heart. But the last time I saw him, he was in a great mood.

MORGAN: And tell me, Larry, you interviewed him and you knew him.

KING: Yes.

MORGAN: I always got the feeling with James Gandolfini that the superstar status that came with his role in "The Sopranos" took him by surprise and he always slightly struggled with the amazing fame it brought him. Would you go along with that?

KING: I would agree completely with that. As I said, he was a classic character. Acted many roles, many diverse roles, hero, villain, comedy, love comedy, and suddenly you're given this -- you know, you're compared to (INAUDIBLE) O'Connor, "Getting All in the Family," very similar, another character actor suddenly becomes this huge star in a -- in a television show that goes beyond expectations and suddenly you're thrust on the scene.

It's like you'll never be the same once you have that. Suddenly even recognizes you and you're still the regular guy you always was. And he was a classic regular guy, Piers. If he was on your show tonight, you would finish at 10:00, you'd go out and have pizza with him. He had --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: That's exactly what I heard about him, yes. Yes, a very sociable guy --

KING: Yes, he was just --

MORGAN: Larry, if you --

KING: He's down to earth, regular guy --

MORGAN: Larry, if you wouldn't mind just --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: Right. Larry, if you wouldn't mind just holding for a second. I've got Bob Wright with me now. He's the president of NBC Universal when "The Sopranos" debuted on HBO. He publicly lamented the violence in the series, worried it would change television for the worse, and Bob Wright joins me now on the phone.

Bob, obviously a devastating day for everyone in the world of acting and television. You knew James Gandolfini well. You were there at the start of "The Sopranos." But what is your reaction?

BOB WRIGHT, FORMER PRESIDENT, CEO, NBC UNIVERSAL: Well, I was shocked. He's a young man. And certainly by -- my history with the show actually goes back a long time. I was the law secretary to Judge Ripple, the chief federal judge in New Jersey when we had (INAUDIBLE) County trials in 1970. Many of those trails with the Rico Act were the basis of the stories behind "The Sopranos" and I thought Tony and his role, it was so spectacular. It was so real. It was a lot of language.

There was a lot of violence. There was a lot of things that we couldn't do on broadcast television, and he was a superb actor who made all of that come into our living rooms and seemingly with all of that that I just said, it was just so well-written, so well-produced and he was such a wonderful actor.

MORGAN: The initial concerns were that it may -- it may glamorize the mafia, the mob, but actually as James Gandolfini himself said many times over the years, I remember seeing this in an interview he did, that it actually had almost a reverse effect because they all were pretty depressed, they were all unhappy with their lives. The very thing it wasn't was glamorous.

WRIGHT: Well, there's certainly no glamour. You know, he's own background was he was a bartender at one time in his own world, so some of the -- some of the aspects of the show were not that foreign from his -- you know, his earlier background. Yes, we were -- we were -- I was concerned that we weren't able to do shows like that and I was concerned that if we weren't able to produce and write and have shows like that on NBC at the time, that we would be losing contact with a lot of Americans who were going to be interested in the show because I thought the show was so good.

That was -- that was a very selfish feeling.

(LAUGHTER)

MORGAN: But Bill Carter said earlier that he really felt that "The Sopranos" completely transformed television. It basically created a whole new way of doing television which then drew in some of the world's great movie actors and producers and directors to do this kind of stuff on the small screen.

WRIGHT: I would agree with that. It also -- when you watch the show and you just saw episode after episode, you know, the language and the violence became secondary. The acting was very good. The plots were very -- were, you know, were so realistic. You felt like you were in it, and you did have a lot of sympathy for -- the people there were not doing that well. You know, they were kind of like low rent mobsters.

MORGAN: Bob Wright, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

WRIGHT: Thank you, Piers. Thank you very much.

MORGAN: I want to go back to Larry King. Larry, I think as the next few days unravel, there will be a general consensus. I'm already sensing this on Twitter and other social media, that James Gandolfini and his role as Tony Soprano may not be one of the greatest television characters but the greatest television dramatic character. What do you think?

LARRY KING: Well, it will be right up there. It is hard to pick what is the greatest, but he was certainly -- you can't not include him among the greatest. He put a stamp on that role, it will live forever. It was a very special role. He went right in with it.

And there is no way, you know, what happened to him, that he was able to transform himself from this character actor, as I said, into this major star and yet, he remained -- I think the public sensed his humanity. The public sensed that he was like one of the guys, like he was -- he was a regular guy. He was playing this role. He was Tony Soprano, but you kind of knew you would like James Gandolfini if you were with him.

I got to go make a speech, Piers, so I have to run. But I will tell you --

MORGAN: Larry, I know you have. And I really appreciate you taking the time to join me. Thank you very much

LARRY KING: My pleasure.

MORGAN: Larry King there. Let's take a quick break. Sanjay Gupta and Nischelle Turner will both be with me after the break. The breaking news, very sad news on the death of James Gandolfini from "The Sopranos." But first, here's a scene from the classic series between Tony Soprano, the mafia boss and his psychiatrist, played by Lorraine Bracco.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES GANDOLFINI, ACTOR (acting): I don't even know why I come here. Nothing else to do.

LORRAINE BRACCO, ACTRESS (acting): Do you think it would help if you went someplace so you could rest up awhile?

GANDOLFINI: You mean like Vegas?

BRACCO: No, not Vegas. Someplace where you can be looked after.

GANDOLFINI: What, you mean like a hospital with the padded rooms and the straight jackets?

BRACCO: No, no straight jackets. A residential treatment center.

GANDOLFINI: You got any idea what my life would be worth if certain people found out I checked into a laughing academy?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: You said of your co-star, James, he's actually a very gentle guy in real life.

EDIE FALCO, ACTRESS: He is.

MORGAN: Quite weird watching him smashing holes in a wall.

FALCO: Well you know, we all have many sides to us.

(LAUGHTER)

FALCO: But he is -- no, he's kind and incredibly generous. He's a very lovely guy. He's definitely got to work out this particular part of his personality for ten years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Back now with more on the breaking news of the sudden death of James Gandolfini in Italy. Matthew Belloni is the executive producer of "The Hollywood Reporter" here in Los Angeles.

So, James Gandolfini changed television for the better. Matthew, amazing tributes. We just saw Edie Falco there, who played his wife in "The Sopranos," I interviewed her and she said he really was a gentle giant behind this huge, burly frame and menacing character that he played..

MATTHEW BELLONI , EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER": Yes, people who knew him said he was very much unlike his character. He was very soft-spoken, almost disappearing into a room if he was there except when you got him on the stage or you got him into a scene and he could just become this hulking monster. You see him on Sopranos and he would go from these scenes where he was absolutely destroying people. And it was really a key to his character.

MORGAN: It's had amazing impact, doesn't it, his death? Just in the last few hours, incredible outpouring of tributes to him. Many saying one of the greatest characters of all time, Tony Soprano. And one of the great actors in television history.

BELLONI: Yes, you can really look at the television business as before Sopranos and after Sopranos. Sopranos changed TV. Tony Soprano was a character that people had never seen before and it was really the precursor for shows like Mad Men, Homeland, Breaking Bad, shows that aren't afraid to build a show around a very flawed and sometimes dark character. That's what Tony Soprano was, and that had never been seen before.

MORGAN: Let me bring in Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, obviously, he's died tragically young at 51. He was a very big-framed man. We don't know much about the kind of lifestyle that he had. What is your sort of suggestion -- suspicion if you like, as to what may have caused this? And we are merely speculating. DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, certainly, you would have to think about the heart disease. And specifically when you talk about heart disease leading to potentially a heart attack, what often is actually causing death is when the heart as a result of poor blood flow to the heart starts to beat irregularly and it's called an arrhythmia. And that's what can cause this.

And I think obviously, Piers, as you suggested have to put that at the top of the list. But he is young, 51 years old. The average age of a first heart attack typically is sometimes in the mid 60s. But there are risk factors. Certainly someone who's overweight or obese, someone who's a smoker, someone who has high cholesterol. Someone who's had a history of drug use, even in the past. Those are all risk factors.

I'll point out, as well, in Italy where he is as a U.S. citizen over there, there is a chance the medical investigators will try and actually tfigure out in more detail what happened here. When something happens that's unusual, unexpected --

MORGAN: Well, what we do know, Sanjay - yes, just to jump in. Some of the details we do know about his background -- in 2002 he admitted he battled cocaine and alcohol abuse. He checked into rehab several times. So that, I guess, would give indications he had demons to deal with which may have precipitated heart problems. He also said this about his own weight, "I should exercise but I'm too old for all that. I lost 30 pounds to play my character, "The Mexican." People don't take to skinny mafia men. I don't feel right when I'm thin." He said, "I used to say I was a 260 pound Woody Allen. You can make that 295 pounds now." That was in 2008.

So, I think he was slightly bigger at the time he died even he was then. So, you're talking about a man, over 300 pounds who had been to rehab for cocaine and alcohol abuse. None of that is going to help, I guess, in terms of avoiding heart trouble.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, those are all certainly big risk factors. And, you know, even short of those risk factors, heart disease is far and away the biggest killer of men and women in the United States. So, those things will put him at increased risk.

But still, Piers, one of the questions that does arise when something like this happens to someone in a young age, you do want to make sure there is nothing else, as well. People are speculating, as you said, Piers, that this is the cause. But there may be a more definitive answer here and that will be dependent on what the medical examiners in Italy, how they chose to pursue this and his family, obviously.

MORGAN: Let me get Nischelle Turner now. Nischelle, as I said earlier, Facebook and Twitter have really blown up with tributes from almost everybody. I saw one from Rob Lowe, calling him the greatest TV character, I think, of them all. And he, of course, was in "West Wing." What are you picking up there?

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, definitely, Piers. There's a lot of reaction on social media. Lots of reaction all over the Internet from people that either worked with James Gandolfini, just knew him or admired him in the industry. Other celebrities and actors. One of the last films he did was "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" with Steve Carell and Jim Carey and Olivia Wilde. And I know Olivia Wilde tweeted a little while ago it was such a sad, sad day, and she was proud to have shared the screen with him for a little bit. We also reached out to Jim Carey, who did say he was not available for interviews.

You were talking a lot about how "The Sopranos" changed the face of television, and that's a lot what we're hearing, as well, Piers. That people are really validating that and saying that Tony Soprano could, in fact, be the best -- one of, if not the best characters on modern day television. And he played it with such ease and panache and skill and fear, all of those things we love about television these days. So there is, again, just a lot of positive reaction, a lot of people saying they will miss James Gandolfini.

MORGAN: Nischelle, thank you. Just stay with us.

With me now on the phone is Kevin O'Rourke. He's the actor who played Meadow's soccer coach, Tony Soprano's daughter, in the first season of Sopranos. Kevin, thank you for joining me and my deep condolences to you and all the actors that worked on "The Sopranos." It must be a very sad day.

KEVIN O'ROURKE, ACTOR: It's a very sad day, Piers. He was a wonderful, generous and loyal actor, and incredibly supportive of the other people on the show. He came from the theater and he was one of those actors who you could tell had that foundation in the way he did his work. I was lucky enough to work with him in that instance and also, he would generously donate some time to the Screen Actors Guild when I was working on the negotiating committee. He was a very, very big-hearted wonderful, as Edie said, a wonderful big hearted giant of a guy who was not at all like his character on the Sopranos.

MORGAN: Were you aware, were the cast aware of any health issues?

O'ROURKE: Well, at that time -- this -- we worked together a long time ago, and he was -- it's funny because he was just beginning -- when I worked with James, "The Sopranos" had not yet aired, so nobody knew what it was. No one knew the kind of phenomenon it was going to turn into. I remember the first day on the set he turned to me and said, who's going to watch a show about a big Italian guy like me? Well, of course, we all did. So, at that point, I don't think any of us realized and I don't think James realized how big this would be or how it would affect his life.

MORGAN: We have a statement that has just come in. This is from Joseph Gannascoli who played Vito Spatafore on "The Sopranos." He said, "Jimmy and I are not the closest of friends, but I'm forever indebted to him. He came with his son and spoke at my wedding, came to my restaurant to meet fans sick as a dog in the rain and stayed for hours." He also said, "He would go in and talk to David Chase with me if I didn't want to play my role on the show. Just a great, humble, gifted about actor and person."

Is that pretty much, Kevin, how all the cast viewed him?

O'ROURKE: Again, I can't speak for everyone else, but that was certainly the impression I got. He was very, very generous. He felt lucky to have that role of a lifetime, and he knew that every actor relied on great writing that David was giving him. And he supported the rest of us do to our best on the show, as well.

MORGAN: In terms of his ability as an actor, was it obvious right from the start he had something special? Because nobody predicted this vast success of "The Sopranos," but it was really driven by the force of his character.

O'ROURKE: Well, not only that. People don't realize this, but it's funny, he and I read for the same part in the production of "Streetcar Named Desire" that was on Broadway with Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange, and he ended up doing the part. It was small, one of the poker players. But he understudied one of the leads. And when he went on in that role as Mitch in Streetcar, everyone in the audience, everyone what came to see that show said uh-oh, this is the real deal. This is the real deal right here. And that's really where it started.

MORGAN: Kevin O'Rourke, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

O'ROURKE: Thank you.

MORGAN: Matt, it's -- it's something that clearly everyone who's worked with him says the same thing. He was an incredibly talented actor and very, very driven.

BELLONI: Absolutely. I mean, if you talk to the entire cast, we've done interviews with them over the years and, you know, everybody pointed -- everybody knew that that show hinged on one guy and if that character was not believable and you did not buy into the likability of a mob boss and that show would fail. And everything really revolved around him and people knew it, and he took that very seriously.

I think that, you know, later roles he's also -- I mean, he played Leon Panetta in "Zero Dark Thirty."

MORGAN: Yes. Yes.

BELLONI: Sort of -- any time there was a role that needed this gravitas or some kind of a sense of -- a little bit of menace maybe and a little authority, he was a good guy to play that.

MORGAN: And the sad thing is that he talked often about the stereotypical aspect of playing a character as big as Tony Soprano and he really felt he'd moved on from that finally, playing these roles like "Zero Dark Thirty" where people didn't immediately think, oh that's Tony Soprano. He got to that place and then now he's dead at 51.

BELLONI: Yes, I mean, it is very sad. He was developing a new project with HBO that would have returned him to that same network in a very different role. And I think that it is a tragedy that we'll never see that.

MORGAN: Matt, stay with me. Thank you.

We'll be back with much more on the life and sudden death of James Gandolfini. Here's a classic scene from "The Sopranos."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm just having bad luck.

JAMES LIPTON, HOST, "INSIDE THE ACTOR'S STUDIO": How did Tony Soprano come into your life and into ours?

JAMES GANDOLFINI, ACTOR: I got the script and I remember reading it and I was laughing out loud. And I said there's no way I will be able to do this. I mean, I've said that before. I really thought that they would pick someone, you know, different than I.

LIPTON: How different? In what way?

GANDOLFINI: You know, suave, good looking Mafioso guy. You know, just somebody a little more leading-man type.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: Back with breaking and tragic news on the sudden death of James Gandolfini who died in Italy at the age of 51. With me is Christopher John Farley who wrote the "Wall Street Journal" appreciate for James Gandolfini.

Christopher, it's a really sad day for the acting profession and for America.

CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: It is a sad day. You know, because, you know, not too many years ago around 1999 did the exact -- I mean, there was a time where you would think why would anyone pay for television? But the reason was James Gandolfini, you would pay for television to see a performance like he gave as Tony Soprano in "The Sopranos."

He relay put HBO on the map, helped make it relevant. Helped people to see that TV could be more than it was and you could have these characters that ran season after season, performances that deepened, performances that had a novelistic quality and it made people agree to pay for television and now it makes sense. People see why you'd want to pay for a performance like he gave as Tony Soprano.

MORGAN: Got a statement just in from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Of course, he was from New Jersey, James Gandolfini, and he says this. "This is a great shock, James Gandolfini was a fine actor, a Rutgers alum, and a true Jersey guy. I was a huge fan of his and the character he played so authentically. Tony Soprano. I've gotten to know Jimmy and many of the other actors in 'The Sopranos' cast and I can say that each of them are an individual New Jersey treasure. Mary Patty and I express our deepest sympathies to Mr. Gandolfini's wife and children, and our prayers are with him at this terrible time."

I want to bring in now Patricia Cornwell.

Patricia, you're an author, you had a character that you thought would have been perfect for James Gandolfini. You did meet him. What is your reaction to his very sad, untimely death today?

PATRICIA CORNWELL, BESTSELLING AUTHOR, FORENSICS EXPERT: Well, I'm shocked and I'm, you know, really incredibly sad like everybody else. I'm a huge fan and it is true, I have a character, you know, Marino, who's the second most important character in my "Scarpetta" series. The detective. And he's been talked about for years as being -- as James Gandolfini being the perfect person to play that role. We're in the middle of, you know, making the movie. We haven't cast the characters yet but he was going to be who I pitched to the studio because when I watch him that's who I see. So I'm stunned really.

MORGAN: Were you a big "Sopranos" fan? Did you watch --

CORNELL: Huge. I watch him -- like I still watch the -- watch them over and over again. Because, you know, I write -- for writing a book series I can learn a lot from a very successful television series and in fact I have a little "Soprano" S-thing that I do with my "Scarpetta" books now, is I always end with all the character together over a meal, which is -- which is I stole directly from "The Sopranos."

I admit it because I've learned a lot from series that are really successful. And when I did meet him at a fundraiser several years ago, he's exactly as people described. He -- it's like he's not in the room. He did not draw attention to himself. I went up and spoke to him when I talked to him about his appearance on Broadway, in "Gods of Carnage" and he was extremely humble and self-effacing. Very nice man.

MORGAN: I actually -- I've met him just once, I think, it may have been twice but once when I actually talked to him, is outside a hotel here in Beverly Hills and he -- they couldn't give his car. They've lost his car in the valet parking. And he was slowly simmering with rage, I could tell. And I tried to talk to him and he was like a little bit, just not now.

I could see he was beginning boil almost like his character. And he seemed to me -- he was a very big man. He was sweating profusely that day. He didn't seem very fit, and it's probably -- don't want to speculate about what happened to him but in terms of his capacity to do these kind of roles, you as a viewer, what did you -- what did you make of his power as a figure, physically and mentally?

CORNELL: He is very powerful. When I -- at the time I met him I was -- I was surprised by how big he was, very tall. He just had -- he filled the room. He has a very formidable presence and a very big energy. And in fact --

MORGAN: Quite brooding, wasn't he?

CORNELL: Yes. He was all scary. And I -- that's what I like about him because -- and I think that's what everybody about him. You sensed there was a tremendous amount of power and you don't want to mess with this person.

MORGAN: And in terms of American television viewing habits, what "The Sopranos" did, I think was one of those first shows that you could watch on what they now call binge viewing, where you would sit and watch quite a few episodes in one hit, maybe four or five episodes, really get into it, and that was the power of his character, I think.

CORNELL: I'm still doing the binge viewing. You know, you sit there and watch five of them in a row. And it doesn't matter how many times I've seen him, such fine works of art. They're just amazing, just so well-done.

MORGAN: He'd be sadly missed, won't he, by --

CORNELL: Absolutely.

MORGAN: The acting profession. I think also by America. He was a huge cultural figure to Americans.

CORNELL: I think everybody is going to miss him. And I think we hate to think that such a great talent can be extinguished so early, and I feel terrible for his family and for so many people personally who will miss him, and that's, you know, sudden death is -- to say it's a terrible thing is quite trite but it's just nobody is prepared for something that happens that fast.

MORGAN: Patricia Cornwell, thank you very much, indeed.

When we come back, much more on the sad death today of James Gandolfini.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GANDOLFINI: I made the down payment. I bought the materials. I leaned on that building inspector with your thumb up your (EXPLETIVE DELETED). So start talking about your money.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let go of me, you piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

GANDOLFINI: The fact is you're a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) businesswoman who built a piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED) house that's going to cave in and kill that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) unborn baby any day. And now you can't sleep.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) yourself.

GANDOLFINI: When I'm done, you'll live in a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) dumpster for all I care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: Back now with more on the extraordinary career of James Gandolfini who tragically died today in Italy at the age of 51.

I want to bring in film critic Jeffrey Lyons. He joins me on the phone.

Jeffrey, we're talking a little bit about "The Sopranos" but he was also a great movie actor, wasn't he?

JEFFREY LYONS, FILM CRITIC: He was. In the style of Earnest Borgnine. Somebody you couldn't feel sorry for until he starts to act and get into role and you realized he did something that very few actors can do instantaneously, that is to say, bring the back story to it and say, oh this is a real character who's here for one situation but he has a real-life besides him. You can't really teach that.

And Kurt Douglas once told me an actor would love to be remembered for at least one role. And he's not just remembered for Tony Soprano, he's remembered for good work on stage and on screen, and you know his father bought tires from John Travolta's father back in New Jersey, so I like to think it's more than just coincidence that he worked with Travolta for five times.

MORGAN: Right. And in terms of his potential, he was 51 years old.

LYONS: Yes.

MORGAN: He'd stopped doing the "Sopranos" obviously. Many believing he's reaching his peak as an actor and would have had some huge roles, I think, in the movies ahead of him.

LYONS: Absolutely. He was going to have some -- I think he has two or three projects unfinished or some are in post-production. But he wants to tell some students that the way he gets angry for a violent scene is to go without sleep for two days. He said that will make anybody angry or he put a rock in the shoe or he drinks six cups of coffee, which he didn't recommend.

And you know, he was a graduate of the Sanford Meisner School of Acting which is a kind of an offshoot of "Actor's Studio" or the method acting. And he was a member of "Actor's Studio." And when you see him on scene, you could see stage acting in its best sense made cinematic, and not many actors can do that with the ease with which he was able to do that time and time again.

My favorite role, one of my favorite parts early in his career was in "Get Shorty" where John Travolta bounced up the stairs and he sees (INAUDIBLE)'s body guard named Bear and it's James Gandolfini, and he says to him, you walk pretty good for a big guy, and Gandolfini's character looks away for a split second and Travolta tosses him down the stairs. It's a great moment and it's a little bit of -- a snippet of what was to come.

MORGAN: Jeffrey Lyons, thank you very much indeed. We got a statement now from HBO that said, "We're all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family who's 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. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He would be deeply missed by all of us."

I'm being joined now by Krista Smith, the senior West Coast editor of "Vanity Fair."

I mean, he -- James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano, "The Sopranos" and HBO all completely into locks really. I mean, he could say that HBO's great success was built on "The Sopranos."

KRISTA SMITH, SENIOR WEST COAST EDITOR, VANITY FAIR: Absolutely. I mean, no one before had that kind of must-see TV on cable until "The Sopranos" came and it was -- everyone, water cooler talk, everyone talked about it before there was "Madmen," there was -- there was "The Sopranos."

And I think the most interesting thing when I've been reflecting back is tragic as it is, it's kind of incredible the way that, as popular as he was he never fell prey to the trappings of celebrity. He was never interested in that. And he didn't want to do the fame game. He's -- a quote from him saying, he's like a 260-pound Woody Allen.

MORGAN: Yes.

SMITH: You know, I'm an neurotic mess and it's -- why are you interested in me? Why aren't you interested in the guy that's driving the car?

MORGAN: I think he was taken aback himself by the scale of fame that came with the role and he really, I think, always found that a little awkward to deal with.

SMITH: Absolutely. It was never why he was an actor. He was an actor to act and that was it. He didn't have the need for that kind of attention, and like you were talking about earlier, he would walk in a room and he wouldn't demand that everyone look at him. He just kind of was. He showed up when he needed to but he didn't want any extra.

MORGAN: Krista, stay with me. Let's take a short break and we'll be back with more on the death of James Gandolfini.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: Back with me now is Krista Smith from "Vanity Fair." We're talking about the death of James Gandolfini, who died today at the age of 51.

Krista, one thing we haven't discussed about him was his work with veteran soldiers. SMITH: Well, this is just true to form to who he was. He's a very salt of the earth guy. In all aspects. And he cared a lot about the veterans. He made a movie -- made documentaries with HBO about it and about post-traumatic stress syndrome specifically. And I believe he went over there a couple of times. And this was something that was definitely a passion project of his.

And I know in his own small community he knew people that were involved in the military. And I think this was his way of drawing attention to it and giving back and once again behind the scenes.

MORGAN: Amazing tributes from Twitter from a variety of stars here. Robin Williams says, "My thoughts and prayers go out to James Gandolfini's family. An extraordinary actor." Susan Sarandon, "So sad to lose James Gandolfini, one of the sweetest, funniest, most generous actors I've ever worked with." Some more, Albert Brooks, "RIP, James Gandolfini. One hell of an actor."

Jeff Daniels, "RIP James Gandolfini. A great friend." And Jonah Hill, who probably speaks for most of us actually. "I'm truly heartbroken to hear that James Gandolfini has passed away. He's one of my all-time favorite actors. A tragic loss." And in politics, John McCain said, "James Gandolfini one of the nicest guys I've ever met."

Certainly the picture that's being built up is a very shy, quite reserved man. Quite a brooding presence, brilliant actor, great family man. He just had a daughter -- he had a son, Michael Gandolfini, with this first wife Marcy and a daughter who was born last year, I think, with his second wife.

He had it all to have lived for, isn't it? This is a real tragedy.

SMITH: It's so -- it's so sad, it's heartbreaking, and so shocking at 51. But I'm not surprised the outpouring. I mean, he was an actor's actor. People loved him. Actors that worked with him loved him. He had tremendous loyalty. He respected the craft of acting, you know, immensely. He took it very seriously. And I'm not surprised at all. I mean he is one of the greats. And the way he fluctuated in between.

Jeffrey Lyons kind of talked about it. It's very difficult to play this kind of hateful character, but yet the audience sympathizes with him. And they want to know why and they want to understand his emotional life. And very, very few actors can do that and he did it beautifully.

MORGAN: Krista, thank you very much.

We'll be right back after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)