ROME (AP) — Organizers of the Taormina Film Festival scrambled Thursday to put together a last-minute tribute to U.S. actor James Gandolfini, after he suffered a fatal cardiac arrest while in Italy to attend the festival's closing ceremony and receive an honor from the Sicilian resort city.
Gandolfini was pronounced dead at 11 p.m. (2100 GMT; 5 p.m. EDT) Wednesday in Rome after being rushed 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 reanimation efforts in the ambulance and hospital failed.
An autopsy would be performed starting 24 hours after the death, as required by law, he told The Associated Press.
The actor, known for his tortured portrayal of Italian-American mob boss Tony Soprano in the drama series "The Sopranos," was to have given a special class at the Taormina Film Festival, an annual festival that takes place against the backdrop of Taormina's spectacular Roman amphitheater. Actor Jeremy Irons gave a similar class earlier in the week.
Later Saturday, Gandolfini was to have been given the "Taormina City Prize" before attending the festival's closing ceremony alongside actress Marisa Tomei.
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 U.S. Embassy in Rome, which said it had only 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.