As mob chieftain Tony Soprano-the role in which he will forever be frozen-the bearish Gandolfini became both an iconic tough guy and a heartthrob for chubby-chasers.

Gandolfini knows his home state well: He grew up in Westwood, New Jersey and attended college at Rutgers, before moving to New York in the 1980s. He enrolled in his first acting class at 25, and made his Broadway debut alongside Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange in the 1993 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. Gandolfini soon moved into film, with small roles in the 90s. Already typecast as a mobster, it was his performance in Quentin Tarantino's True Romance that attracted the attention of one David Chase, who was then plotting a series about a troubled north Jersey mob boss. Gandolfini was cast as the lead on The Sopranos and won endless critical acclaim and three Emmys before the show's conclusion in 2007. Post-"Don't Stop Believin'," he's executive-produced a documentary about wounded Iraq war vets for HBO, Alive Day, and starred in God of Carnage on Broadway and films like Where the Wild Things Are and Welcome to the Rileys.

Gandolfini was married to Marcy Wudarski until 2002. (During divorce proceedings, she accused him of snorting coke with other Sopranos cast members and having "kinky sex with multiple mistresses.") He's now married to former model Deborah Lin. [Image via Getty]