The Times tells about him:
James Joseph Gandolfini Jr. was born in Westwood, N.J., on Sept. 18, 1961. His father was an Italian immigrant who held a number of jobs, including janitor, bricklayer and mason. His mother, Santa, was a high school cafeteria chef.Gandolfini's father worked as the head custodian at Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey, and we assume the family was Catholic.
He attended Park Ridge High School and Rutgers University, graduating in 1983 with a degree in communications. He drove a delivery truck, managed nightclubs and tended bar in Manhattan before becoming interested in acting at age 25, when a friend took him to an acting class.
Haaretz wrote about his characters' Jewish links. Gandolfini made a humorous Israeli ad for yes.co.il.