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James Gandolfini: A Look at His Turbulent Off-Screen Life

Yahoo Celebrity

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James Gandolfini (WireImage)

The world is still in shock over the news of James Gandolfini's sudden and unexpected death after a suspected heart attack at age 51 on Wednesday. James — or Jimmy, as his friends called him — had been visiting Italy with his 13-year-old son when the tragedy struck.

While the star will most certainly be remembered for his portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano on the hit HBO series, his life included far more than days of shooting scenes and nights of running lines. He went to school, paid his dues, got married, got divorced, had kids — the list goes on and on.

Let's look back at Gandolfini's extraordinary off-screen life to remember not just the actor, but also the man.

September 18, 1961: James Joseph Gandolfini Jr. was born in Westwood, New Jersey, to a working class couple. His father was a high school custodian and his mother was a lunch lady who had emigrated from Italy and pushed her son to achieve the American dream.

1979: James graduated from Park Ridge High School, where he played basketball and acted in school plays. He also happened to be voted Class Flirt.

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The Class Flirt (Yearbook Library)

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James was a high school athlete (Yearbook Library)

1983: Making his mother proud, Gandolfini graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies.

Mid '80s: Probably making his mother slightly less proud (though we're only speculating here), Gandolfini moved to New York City and took a gig at the gentlemen's club, Private Eyes, which he later described as "Straight two nights a week, gay two nights a week, and kind of everything else two nights a week." He said it was a great place to observe people and take notes that would later come in handy in front of the camera.

Late '80s – '90s: While living in Manhattan, Gandolfini pursued acting, and built a nice reputation as a talented character actor, especially on Broadway, where he appeared in "On the Waterfront" and "A Streetcar Named Desire."

[Related: James Gandolfini's 20 Best Roles]

September 10, 1993: "True Romance," written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott, debuted in theaters and officially put James on the map. In it, he played a scene-stealing henchman to Christopher Walken's big baddie. As they say, "So cool."

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Gandolfini and Patricia Arquette in True Romance (Everett Collection)

January 10, 1999: The actor's life changed almost overnight when the first episode of "The Sopranos" aired on HBO to rave reviews. This show would go on to earn Gandolfini three Emmys, a loyal following of fans, and, ultimately, $1 million per episode.

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The Sopranos (Everett Collection)

[Related: Why We Loved Tony Soprano]

1999: Clearly on an upswing, James married Marcy Wudarski later that same year.

2000: Soon after tying the knot, James and Marcy welcome son Michael Gandolfini. Later on, however, accusations arose that during this same year (when he was filming the hit HBO show and doting over his newborn child), the actor began — but did not complete — a 28-day rehab stint.

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Gandolfini and ex-wife Marcy Wudarski (Getty Images)

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Edie Falco and Gandolfini celebrate (Getty Images)

2002: Just two short years after making it official, James and Marcy called it quits, beginning what would be become a nasty divorce during which his ex-wife accused him of both doing drugs (with some "Sopranos" buddies no less) and "performing kinky sex with multiple mistresses." In the winter, he became known on set for occasionally refusing to work and punching himself in the face out of frustration. One night, he simply disappeared and the show's crew thought the worst. Thankfully, he called four days later from a Brooklyn beauty shop.

2003: After a contract dispute with HBO held up production on "The Sopranos," Gandolfini personally paid back his co-stars for the delay, handing them five-figure sums from his new deal.

2007: The last episode of one of the most successful TV shows of all time airs, and James Gandolfini's stint as Tony Soprano comes to an end. While the finale received mixed reviews (including from James himself), there was also instant speculation as to when a "Sopranos" movie might materialize.

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Gandolfini and wife Deborah Lin (Getty Images)

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James and his baby girl (Splash News)

August 30, 2008: Free from a demanding TV production schedule, James married former model Deborah Lin in Hawaii in a 20-minute church ceremony at the Central Union Church in Honolulu. Though the star was notoriously tight-lipped about his personal life, pictures from the wedding day revealed a beaming couple and James looked happier than ever.

October 10, 2012: James and Deborah welcomed their daughter, Liliana Ruth Gandolfini, in Los Angeles.

June 1, 2013: James paid a visit to T-Man Tattoo in Studio City, California, to discuss plans for a new piece of body art he wanted to get. While he didn't tell the owner exactly what he had in mind, Gandolfini had promised to return later this month to get inked.

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Gandolfini at a charity event in June (Getty Images)

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Gandolfini and his son Michael in 2010 (Splash News)

June 10, 2013: James made what would be his last public appearance in New York City at the Stella By Starlight charity gala, a fundraiser for the Stella Adler Outreach Division, which provides acting classes to lower-income, inner-city kids.

June 19, 2013: James was on a boys' trip in Italy with his son Michael, 13, when "something happened" in the bathroom. The "Sopranos" star was pronounced dead at a Rome hospital just an hour later. James is survived by his two children and his wife.

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