Gandolfini Dead At Age 51 of Sudden Heart Attack

By  //  June 24, 2013

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ABOVE VIDEO: The sudden death of 51-year-old actor James Gandolfini of an apparent heart attack surprised many and has heightened the awareness of the magnitude of the problem of sudden cardiac death from coronary heart disease, and what can be done to prevent this completely preventable heart disorder. WISN Channel 12 in Milwaukee, WI focuses their report on the importance of routine cardiac screening for people, especially men, with and without cardiac risk factors, and the benefits of incorporating a healthy diet and exercise into everyday lifestyle to help prevent coronary heart disease.

BREVARD COUNTY • VIERA, FLORIDA – Actor James Gandolfini, best known for his notorious Tony Soprano character from the HBO serial “The Sopranos” suffered a heart attack this past Wednesday while on holiday in Rome. Within 40 minutes of receiving medical attention, he was pronounced dead. Mr. Gandolfini died of sudden cardiac death.


Sudden cardiac death (SCD) afflicts over 360,000 Americans annually. Of the over 700,000 Americans who have heart attacks every year, one-half do not survive long enough to reach the hospital to receive potentially life-saving treatment. In most cases, these individuals succumb to SCD.

James Gandolfini, Emmy Award-winning actor, best known for his work as Tony Soprano on HBO’s The Sopranos, died Wednesday at the age of 51.
51 year-old James Gandolfini, Emmy Award-winning actor, best known for his work as Tony Soprano on HBO’s The Sopranos, died Wednesday of sudden cardiac death.

Most instances of SCD that accompany the atherosclerosis that is responsible for coronary heart disease (CHD) results from a sudden and abrupt blockage in one of the heart’s coronary arteries that causes a portion of the heart to be deprived of blood. This triggers an electrical disturbance in the heart, such that the heart cannot continue to provide blood to the vital organs of the body. Ultimately, this deprived blood flow results in loss of heart and brain function causing the individual to collapse and never regain consciousness.

In the case of the 51-year old Gandolfini, he reportedly collapsed in his hotel bathroom after returning from dinner at exactly 10 pm. His teenage son had to call hotel security to break down the door. He was still conscious when hotel staff found him, but soon thereafter lost consciousness. Hotel staff provided immediate CPR, and paramedics provided advanced cardiac life support, transporting him to Policlinic Umberto I, one of Rome’s most renowned hospitals, only 3 minutes from the hotel. He was pronounced dead at 10:40 pm, never regaining consciousness.


We still have few details about Gandolfini’s medical history. While there was no public knowledge about whether he had heart disease, he reportedly “loved his food,” and liked to smoke.

Portly Tony Saprano was a cigar smoker, and off screen Gandolfini enjoyed smoking and 'loved his food.'
Portly Tony Saprano was a cigar smoker, and off screen Gandolfini enjoyed smoking and ‘loved his food.’ (HBO Image)

He was overweight, and had the type of obesity known as central obesity, or the “apple shape” that is often associated with metabolic syndrome. He may also have had sleep apnea.

All of these conditions are known to increase the risk of CHD. While his acting roles often required him to play an adrenalin-infused, angry and tense individual, by all reports he was nothing but a gentle and charismatic individual in real life.


Gandolfini’s tragic death has sent a shock wave among his fans and the Hollywood and New York acting communities. However, an even bigger tragedy would be if his death did not mobilize an increased awareness of the magnitude of the problem of SCD, and what can be done to prevent this completely preventable heart disorder.

SCD occurs without warning, and often without any preceding symptoms. Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press and Davy Jones, the singer from the popular rock group, The Monkees are among the many celebrities who have died from SCD. The take-away message from all of these incidents is that without medical screening, anybody is at risk of SCD.

If you have risk factors for CHD, you need to see your doctor for screening cardiac evaluation.

If you have risk factors for CHD, like obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, family history, hypertension, smoking, to name only a few, you need to see your doctor to be screened for CHD. In most instances, simple screening exams with EKG’s, blood tests and artery imaging tests using sophisticated, but safe and inexpensive modalities like carotid ultrasound and CAT scans can help to further refine the assessment of heart risk.

Do not delay evaluating and managing your heart risk factors, because in many instances, your first symptom of heart disease may also be your last… in the form of sudden cardiac death!

For more information, get the book Don’t Let Your Heart Attack!, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.


Dr. Khalid Sheikh
Dr. Khalid Sheikh

Dr. Sheikh, a member of Health First Medical Group, directs a cardiology practice specializing in lipid management and cardiovascular disease prevention, treatment and reversal in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He was a Professor of Cardiology at Duke University before entering private practice, and is currently on the clinical faculty at the University of Central Florida College Of Medicine. Dr. Sheikh, who was recognized by the Consumers’ Research Council of America as one of America’s Top Cardiologists, is board certified in both Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases, and is a Fellow of  the American College of Cardiology.  He is also a certified clinical lipid specialist, board certified in adult echocardiography and has completed level I training in cardiac CT imaging. He has served as the principal investigator in over 100 national and international clinical research trials, and authored over 150 scientific abstracts, peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and subject reviews.

For more information about Don’t Let Your Heart Attack and Dr. Sheikh’s practice go to