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Death of 'Sopranos' star James Gandolfini hits hard

"Sopranos" star James Gandolfini died Wednesday at the age of 51. (AP file)

News of the sudden death of acclaimed actor James Gandolfini is hitting his fans hard. Among them, KIRO Radio's Ron Upshaw.

Ron, like millions of others, was a devoted follower of Gandolfini as Tony Soprano on the groundbreaking HBO series "The Sopranos."

"I think for a generation of people that watched him on The Sopranos, you feel like you knew him."

Gandolfini played mob boss Tony Soprano in all 86 episodes of the series that aired from 1999 to 2007.

"I think the genius of the show was the way it was constructed by David Chase," Ron says.

Before "The Sopranos," Ron says "the gangster character was always portrayed as larger than life and had an air of invincibility about him."

But Gandolfini brought a new complexity and humanity to the mobster character. The series began with him in a psychiatrist's office, revealing fears and faults never before aired on screen. He was flawed, full of anxiety in one scene, then equally violent and intimidating the next.

Although he's known best for the role that made him a star, Ron credits him for his varied acting chops in roles from Get Shorty to Zero Dark Thirty.

Gandolfini was also know for his humility and charity, and the outpouring of grief is a testament to his widespread popularity.

"I think it's a huge loss for not just fans of "The Sopranos" but I think a guy that in life was a kind-hearted man that gave back."

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