Body of Sopranos star Gandolfini to be returned to U.S. Monday

ROME, June 23 Sun Jun 23, 2013 12:18pm EDT

ROME, June 23 (Reuters) - The body of star actor James Gandolfini, who died of a heart attack in Rome last week, will be returned to the United States on Monday, earlier than expected, a family friend said.

Gandolfini, best known for his leading role in the Emmy-winning series The Sopranos, was found dead in his Rome hotel late on Wednesday.

Family friend Michael Kobold thanked the Italian authorities and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for helping accelerate procedures for the return of the body.

"We are fully aware that this process normally takes seven days and we are extremely grateful for their (the authorities') efficiency in dealing with this matter," he told reporters in Rome on Sunday.

"We are now looking at hopefully getting James Gandolfini's remains back to the United States tomorrow," he said.

An autopsy showed Gandolfini had died of natural causes. He was on holiday in Italy with his 13-year-old son and was due to attend the closing of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily on Saturday.

Gandolfini's performance as New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano made him a household name and helped usher in a new era of American television drama.

Since "The Sopranos" ended its six-season run in June 2007, Gandolfini appeared in a number of big-screen roles, including the crime drama "Killing Them Softly" and "Zero Dark Thirty", a film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Gandolfini had been working on an upcoming HBO series, "Criminal Justice," and had two films due out next year. (Reporting by Cristiano Corvino; Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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