By Chris Francescani
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fellow actors mourned James Gandolfini as a great craftsman and a warm and generous man at a his funeral on Thursday, a week after the 51-year-old star of the HBO television show "The Sopranos" died of a heart attack while visiting Rome.
"Sopranos" creator David Chase and the actor's wife Deborah Lin Gandolfini were among four speakers at a packed ceremony for the actor whose performance as a cigar-chomping New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano made him a household name.
Most of the cast of "The Sopranos," including Edie Falco, who played Tony Soprano's wife, and Michael Imperioli, who played his nephew Christopher Moltisanti, attended the 90-minute ceremony at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in upper Manhattan.
"It was heaven on earth. You could feel James' presence," actor George Loros, who played mobster and FBI informant Ray Curto in the series, said about the funeral.
Loros, who was visibly moved by the service, and other actors praised Gandolfini's generosity, dedication and talent.
"He could be talking like you and I are talking right now," Loros told Reuters, "and then he could be called to the set and be just brutal (as an actor). He had such a God-given gift."
New York actor Tommy Bayiokos, who worked on the fifth season of "The Sopranos," described Gandolfini as "a master of his craft."
Laila Robins, who played Soprano's mother as a young woman in the early seasons of the show, said Gandolfini had an acting coach on the set.
"That was so sweet, and I remember that about him the most - just how badly he wanted to do a good job. He worked so hard," she added.
Scores of fans waited in the sweltering heat to get a glimpse of actors Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Chris Noth and Julianna Margulies, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as they entered the cathedral.
Other fans managed to get into the funeral service, which was led by the Very Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski.
On Wednesday about 100 people attended a private wake for the actor in New Jersey. Gandolfini, who was raised in a working-class neighborhood, shared Tony Soprano's Italian-American heritage and New Jersey roots.
Broadway theaters dimmed their marquees on Wednesday night in memory of the actor, who also had a successful stage career.
Gandolfini collapsed in the bathroom of his hotel room in Rome while vacationing with his 13-year-old son, Michael. He had been scheduled to attend the closing of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily. He body was flown to the United States on Sunday.
Gandolfini's portrayal of a gangster who ordered hits on his enemies and saw a therapist to talk about his insecurities, was the signature role of his career and won him three Emmy Awards as best actor in a drama series. The show ran for six seasons.
In 2009 Gandolfini was nominated for a Tony Award for his role in "God of Carnage." He also appeared in "On the Waterfront" in 1995 and "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1992.
The actor had been working on an upcoming HBO series, "Criminal Justice," and has two films due out next year. He also appeared in the crime drama "Killing Them Softly" and "Zero Dark Thirty," a film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Apart from his son Michael with his first wife, who he divorced in 2002, Gandolfini is survived by his wife and daughter Liliana, who was born last year.
(Additional reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; writing by Patricia Reaney; Editing by David Storey)