ROME — A friend of "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini said Thursday the actor was discovered by a family member in his hotel room in Rome before he was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest at a hospital.
Michael Kobold, who described himself as a close family friend, read a short statement to reporters, but said little more about the circumstances of Gandolfini's death on Wednesday night.
He did not say who discovered Gandolfini, 51, but NBC quoted Antonio D'Amore, manager of the Boscolo Excedra hotel, as saying it was the actor's 13-year-old son, Michael.
Gandolfini had appeared in advertisements for Kobold's company, Kobold Watches.
Gandolfini was pronounced dead at 11 p.m. Wednesday in Rome after being taken by ambulance to the Policlinic Umberto I hospital.
Dr. Claudio Modini, head of the hospital emergency room, said Gandolfini arrived at the hospital at 10:40 p.m. (2040 GMT; 4:40 p.m. EDT) and was pronounced dead after resuscitation efforts in the ambulance and hospital failed.
An autopsy would be performed starting 24 hours after the death, as required by law, Modini told The Associated Press.
The actor, known for his portrayal of the tortured Italian-American mob boss Tony Soprano, was to have received an award and taken part in the closing ceremony Saturday of the Taormina Film Festival, which takes place against the backdrop of Taormina's spectacular Roman amphitheater.
He also was to have given a special class Saturday morning at the festival, as was done by actor Jeremy Irons earlier in the week.
Festival organizers Mario Sesti and Tiziana Rocca said instead they would organize a tribute "to celebrate his great achievement and talent." They said they had heard from Gandolfini a few hours before he died, and "he was very happy to receive this award and be able to travel to Italy."
"The Sopranos" was a hit when it first aired in Italy in 2001, with critics giving it rave reviews, despite some criticism from Italian-Americans across the Atlantic who thought it stereotyped them.
"Rarely does one see fiction so intelligent, ironic, full of psychological and narrative subtleties. And the dialogue! The photography!" Italy's most prominent TV critic, Aldo Grasso, gushed in the leading daily Corriere della Sera after the first episode aired. "Trust me, don't miss 'The Sopranos!'"
The daily La Repubblica called the show a "masterpiece." The paper deplored that it was being "hidden" from viewers by being aired at the unenviable 12:30 a.m. timeslot and urged it to be moved up — something former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset network eventually did, showing it at 11:30 p.m.
Gandolfini's death was one of the top news stories in Italy on Thursday, with American tourists outside his hotel well aware of the tragedy.
"I thought he was a great actor," said William Capece, visiting Rome from Houston, Texas. "Pretty sad because it is a big loss to the field of acting."
The U.S. Embassy in Rome, which said it had learned about the death from the media, said it would be available to provide a death certificate and help prepare the body for return to the United States. The embassy said it can often take between four and seven days to arrange for it to be sent outside of Italy.
The embassy spokesman declined further comment, directing inquiries to the family.
It isn't yet known yet what caused his heart to stop beating. Sudden cardiac arrest can be due to a heart attack, a heart rhythm problem, or a result of trauma. The chance of cardiac arrest increases as people get older; men over age 45 have a greater risk. Men in general are up to three times more likely to have a sudden cardiac arrest than women.