Actor James Gandolfini, 51, has died, HBO and other sources confirm. The former star of the HBO series The Sopranos was reportedly on holiday in Italy when he died. The cause of death is not yet known with certainty, but HBO says the actor may have suffered a heart attack. Other reports have indicated Gandolfini had a stroke.
Update at 8:15 p.m. ET: Confirmation From HBO:
Initial reports of Gandolfini's death were confirmed to NPR by HBO, which has released a statement:
"We're all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family. He was special man, a great talent, but more importantly a gentle and loving person who treated everyone no matter their title or position with equal respect. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us."
In a statement, reports the Associated Press, Sopranos creator David Chase called Gandolfini a "genius."
"Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that," Chase said. "He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes."
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Gandolfini won accolades and Emmy nominations for his portrayal of the gruff and complicated character of Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mobster who was the heart of The Sopranos. The critically acclaimed show aired its last episode in 2007.
"His first break came in 1992 when he landed a role in a Broadway version of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' that starred Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange," the New York Daily News reports. "Smallish parts in major films followed — Gandolfini played a submarine crew member in Crimson Tide in 1995 and a gangland bodyguard in Get Shorty the same year.
Accepting a Golden Globe award for his work in The Sopranos' first season in 1999, Gandolfini graciously thanked the show's writers, its cast, and its creator, David Chase, "for giving someone like me the opportunity to play a part like this."
He also joked, "I have to mention my Teamster driver now, Joey Fay."
More recently, the burly actor was in the action film Zero Dark Thirty. He was also working on an upcoming CBS show, Taxi 22. Another project, Criminal Justice, is in the works for HBO.
Gandolfini is survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, and their daughter, as well as a son from his earlier marriage to Marcy Wudarski.
George T. Gary III
Look closely, you might recognize this former child star from her roles in several popular '90s movies including Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street and Matilda.
All grown-up, child actress-turned writer Mara Wilson sat down to talk with Talk of the Nation Host Neal Conan about the pressures of child stardom.
"Childhood stars are a very easy target," says Wilson of the celebrity culture surrounding child stars growing up in the public eye.
Now an adult, she noted that the life of a former childhood star becomes even more of an obstacle as an adult.
"You lose that praise," Wilson said. "You lose what you had. And you are so used to it; it's almost like a drug. And all of a sudden it's like withdrawal."
A graduate of interdisciplinary theatre studies from New York University, Wilson now has her eyes set on her original passion - telling stories and writing plays.
With an appropriate amount of praise for the self-proclaimed 'recovering child star,' we couldn't let her leave without showing us a little love.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is already executing prisoners faster than any Florida governor in modern times, signed a bill Monday designed to speed up the death penalty process.
Six weeks ago, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley moved in the opposite direction: He signed a bill abolishing the death penalty, making Maryland the sixth state to end capital punishment in as many years.
This kind of difference is not unusual. On taxes, gun control, abortion and a host of other issues, Democratic-controlled states are moving in entirely different directions from their Republican-led neighbors.
What is unusual is that governors are often the ones leading the way. Traditionally, governors have been among the least partisan figures in big-league American politics, concentrating less on ideology than the managerial tasks of paving roads and funding schools.
Today, whether fueled by their own presidential ambitions or pressured by interest groups that figure they can get more action in states than from a gridlocked Congress, governors have become more polarizing figures.
"There just seems to be more of a partisan edge," says Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, whose father was a popular governor of Utah. "They seem to be infected along with everyone else, there's no question about it."
For decades, observers have talked about states as "laboratories of democracy," experimenting with ideas that often blossom into national policy.
Today, we have red labs and blue labs, with partisan governors pushing entirely different and opposite types of laws.
"The vast majority of states are deeply red or deeply blue, and they reflect that," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "Governors used to be the most bipartisan group, but now they're as divided as everybody else."
Problems In Common
Governors have always been highly political. Their control of state parties gave rise to the myth that they could help hand their states' electoral votes to presidential candidates.
But once campaign season was over, governors had trains to run. Many were willing to buck fashions in their own parties to balance their budgets or try to improve high school graduation rates.
"For them, compromise is part of governing," writes political scientist Alan Rosenthal in The Best Job in Politics, his recent book about governors.
The 50 governors saw themselves as belonging to a special breed — half the number of the U.S. Senate, the "world's most exclusive club," but with twice the accountability for solving problems.
They collaborated with neighbors on matters such as the environment, while borrowing ideas from colleagues around the country on an ad hoc basis or through the National Governors Association.
"Governors used to clearly learn from each other at NGA meetings and follow up on projects," says John Weingart, director of the Center on the American Governor at Rutgers University. "They'd send their staff to look at interesting things in other states, regardless of party."
Issues Get Nationalized
Twenty years ago, NGA was considered one of the most powerful lobbying forces in Washington, speaking with the full authority of the most important politicians out in the country.
Today, with a more fractured group of governors, it's difficult for NGA to present a united front. Instead, the separate Democratic and Republican governors associations have become increasingly influential.
RGA raised $117 million for the 2010 campaign cycle, the last big year for gubernatorial elections, while DGA raised $55 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
"The transition moved quickly when the Democratic and Republican governor groups started taking positions on controversial issues, and then sought to have the NGA reflect their views," says Dave Freudenthal, a former Democratic governor of Wyoming, citing matters such as climate change and the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's health care law.
Interest groups, stymied in Washington, have pushed governors to test-market ideas on everything from taxes to abortion.
Meanwhile, the internal politics of many states have grown more partisan, with one party or the other coming to completely dominate the legislature.
"It used to be, you'd run from one side or the other, but you were forced to govern more from the middle," says Ray Scheppach, a former NGA executive director. "Now, they do worry about primary challenges more, so it keeps them aligned in that partisan approach."
What would once have been seen as a no-brainer for governors — taking money from Washington — has become a bright dividing line. Many Republicans have objected on principle to accepting funds from the 2009 stimulus law or the Medicaid expansion at the heart of the Affordable Care Act.
White House Ambitions
There was a time when it was common for governors to please just about everyone, earning approval ratings in the 70s or 80s.
Scott Matheson, for instance, was one of the most popular governors in the country in the 1980s, even as a Democrat in Utah, in part because he worked well with Republicans such as Norman Bangerter, who served under him as state House speaker and succeeded him as governor.
That sort of model still exists, but it's more rare and doesn't bring with it national prominence.
Instead, stars are born by taking ownership of some issue that excites the national party base — such as Republican governors who have taken on public employees unions or talked about abolishing state income taxes, or Democrats banning so-called assault weapons and signing gay-marriage laws.
"Certainly those that want a national profile, they may well need to be partisan, just because of the way the nominating process works," says Bill Pound, executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures. "They've got to get out and appeal to whatever base it is, on either side."
Staying On Offense
In this era, a figure such as popular Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who openly embraced Obama at the height of last fall's campaign because he welcomed federal help following a hurricane, suddenly becomes suspect among his own party's faithful.
"Being attractive to people in both parties used to be considered unambiguously a strength," says Weingart, the Rutgers professor. "Now, being seen as a moderate or someone who works well with the other party has not been a benefit in the last few cycles."
Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, addressed members of his own party in a column published in Politico on Monday, but he seemed to be channeling the attitude of many contemporary governors of both stripes:
"Let's ... get on offense," Jindal wrote, "and go kick the other guys around."
Fans spoke, and apparently Microsoft listened.
In a reversal of the company's previous position, Microsoft announced Wednesday that its forthcoming Xbox One gaming console would no longer require a regular Internet connection and would not restrict used or shared games.
Since the system was revealed in May and at its big presentation at E3 earlier this month, Microsoft has been criticized for how it would need to "check-in" online once every 24 hours and for a confusing policy toward used games.
In an official post, Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business, says the company has listened:
"Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.
"You told us how much you loved the flexibility you have today with games delivered on disc. The ability to lend, share, and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you. Also important to you is the freedom to play offline, for any length of time, anywhere in the world."
The first big change is that the Xbox One will no longer require an Internet connection to play offline Xbox One games, and there is no longer a 24-hour connection requirement. Mattrick says that after a one-time system setup online, disc-based games can be played without ever connecting to the Internet again.
The other change is that games can be traded, lent to other Xbox One owners, resold or gifted; there will be no limitations on using and sharing games, Mattrick says. Previously Microsoft said there would be restrictions with trading and selling used games, but the details of how that would function were unclear.
Xbox One games will also be playable on any Xbox One console, and there will be no regional locks.
These changes put it more inline with Microsoft's direct competitor, Sony's upcoming PS4 system. Sony stated at E3 that its system would not require an online connection and wouldn't restrict used games.
Both systems go on sale later this year, the Xbox One at $499 and the PS4 at $399.
Two men in upstate New York have been arrested for planning to build a "radiation particle weapon" that could be mounted on a vehicle and used to target people, according to a report by the Albany Times-Union Wednesday. The men allegedly planned to sell the device to either the Ku Klux Klan or Jewish groups.
Citing a federal complaint that was unsealed today, the Times-Union says the man at the center of the alleged plot is Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, whom it identifies as a mechanic for General Electric. He was arrested Tuesday.
The complaint, which is available online, accuses Crawford of planning to build "a truck-borne, industrial-grade x-ray system, thus weaponizing that system and allowing it to be turned on and off from a distance and without detection."
Also arrested was Eric J. Feight, 54, who officials believe intended to build the weapon's electronic control system. The two men were in federal court Wednesday on charges that they conspired to provide material support to terrorists, including use of a weapon of mass destruction.
An affidavit filed with the complaint says the suspects did not acquire a radiation source for the weapon officials say they were working on, but that they finished building a remote control that was meant to operate it. The 67-page document also includes transcriptions of conversations about the technical aspects of the project.
As for whether such a weapon would be feasible, the AP asked an expert to weigh in:
"Dr. Fred Mettler, the U.S. representative on the United Nations' Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, was unfamiliar with the specifics of Crawford's plans but said it's unlikely such a device could work," the agency reports.
"Radiation can be narrowly beamed, as it is in some cancer treatments, but the accelerators require huge amounts of electricity, are not easily portable and any target would have to remain still for a long time."
"I don't know of any of these that you can use like a gun to aim at someone on the street," Mettler tells the AP.
Crawford drew the attention of federal agents in the spring of 2012, when he allegedly approached members of Gates of Heaven, a synagogue in Schenectady, with the promise of a weapon that could benefit Israel.
From a local News Center 10 TV report:
"According to Rabbi Matt Cutler, Crawford tried to discuss a device which was being created to protect Jewish people. Although Cutler says he did not get into details about the actual device, as he tried to pitch his plan, secretaries inside the temple were thinking of a way to get Crawford out of the building.
"The secretaries, scared by the bizarre plan Crawford had discussed, called the police immediately and notified the Jewish Federation he was headed their way."
Once the FBI was contacted, a Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation began.
The FBI says it set up a meeting at a restaurant between Crawford a confidential informant last year. Here's how the Times-Union describes part of that session, quoting the federal complaint:
"'Crawford also told the (source) that the target of his radiation emitting device would be the Muslim community,' the complaint states. 'Crawford described the device's capabilities as 'Hiroshima on a light switch' and that 'everything with respiration would be dead by the morning.'"
The complaint alleges that the two men used the codenames Dimitri (Crawford) and Yoda (Feight), and that they also allegedly met with undercover informants who were posing as potential buyers for the radiation weapon, who presented themselves as members of a South Carolina Ku Klux Klan group.
General Electric issued a statement today saying that it has suspended Crawford from his job, and that the company is cooperating with the investigation.
Crawford and Feight are due to appear in court again Thursday.
"This case demonstrates how we must remain vigilant to detect and stop potential terrorists, who so often harbor hatred toward people they deem undesirable," U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian said in a statement released today. "We give special thanks to those who quickly alerted law enforcement authorities to this devious plan."