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The Heart-Breaking Reason James Gandolfini Would Stop Production On The Sopranos

"The Sopranos" remains one of the greatest and most influential TV series of all time. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has nearly perfect scores of 98% Fresh among the critics and 92% Fresh among the fans. More than that, it's often credited with ushering in both the era of prestige TV dramas on premium cable, as well as the era of the antihero. Without "The Sopranos," we might not have shows like "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," "Nurse Jackie," and countless other dramas that explore the darker side of human nature.

And we wouldn't have "The Sopranos" without its star, James Gandolfini. His performance as Tony Soprano remains one of the greatest acting performances. In 2007, Entertainment Weekly ranked Gandolfini 42nd among the greatest TV icons of all time (via Today). Gandolfini fully embodied the ruthless-yet-vulnerable mobster, receiving six Emmy nominations and three wins (via Emmys).

Gandolfini's accomplishments are even more impressive when you realize what he was going through in his personal life at the time. In a new book, former HBO executives Jeff Bewkes and Chris Albrecht shed light on Gandolfini's struggles with addiction. 

Gandolfini struggled with substance abuse throughout The Sopranos' run

In the new book "Tinderbox: HBO's Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers" by journalist James Andrew Miller, Bewkes and Albrect said that Gandolfini's substance abuse problems regularly affected the show. 

"We were concerned about Gandolfini staying alive. Occasionally he would go on a bender or a coke binge. We had to stop production," said Bewkes, HBO's former CEO (via Insider).

Bewkes described his relationship with Gandolfini, who saw him as both a boss and a father figure. Bekwes often covered for Gandolfini. When HBO executive Carolyn Strauss approached Bewkes for more money to cover production overruns caused by Gandolfini's absences, Bewkes would grant the requests. 

Albrecht, meanwhile, recalled that Gandolfini's behavior affected his relationships with the other cast members. "I don't remember us being worried he was going to die," Albrecht said. "But it became a real problem with shooting the show. ... It became a lack of respect for the other actors as well, so there were sort of problems that bubbled up" (via Insider).

At one point, Albrecht staged an intervention for Gandolfini. It didn't go well. When Gandolfini arrived and found his friends and family waiting at Albrecht's Manhattan apartment, he reacted poorly. "Oh, f— this. F— all of you," the actor reportedly said. Gandolfini then dared Albrecht to fire him and stormed out.

Gandolfini passed away from a heart attack on June 19, 2013 while vacationing in Italy, at the age of 51. His death shocked his fans around the world, and he's still missed today. 

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).