David Chase, James Gandolfini

Theo Wargo/WireImage.com

James Gandolfini's sudden death today at 51 didn't just rob Hollywood of a great talent.

"He was a genius," David Chase, the Emmy-winning creator of The Sopranos who most recently directed Gandolfini in the film Not Fade Away, said in a statement to E! News. In Italy to attend a film festival Gandolfini died after suffering an apparent heart attack in Rome

"Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times, 'You don't get it.  You're like Mozart.'

"There would be silence at the other end of the phone," Chase recalled. "For [wife] Deborah and [son] Michael and [daughter] Liliana this is crushing. And it's bad for the rest of the world. He wasn't easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can't explain and never will be able to explain."

Gandolfini won three Emmy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Golden Globe for playing mob boss Tony Soprano in Chase's game-changing HBO series.

Lorraine Bracco, who played Tony's long-suffering psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi, said, "We lost a giant today. I am utterly heartbroken."

Rocker Steven Van Zandt, aka Soprano Family consigliere Silvio Dante, told E! News from Scotland: "I have lost a brother and a best friend. The world has lost one of the greatest actors of all time. [His wife] Maureen and I send our deepest sympathy and love to Deborah, Michael, Lily, and all of Jimmy's family."

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