By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - James Gandolfini, star of the U.S. Emmy-winning series The Sopranos, had a "wonderful" last day on holiday with his son before dying of a heart attack in Italy, a family friend said on Friday.

Michael Kobold told journalists an autopsy on Friday morning showed Gandolfini had died of natural causes, confirming an earlier report from medical officials.

The autopsy had shown "nothing out of the ordinary ... there was no foul play, there was no substance abuse," Kobold said.

Kobold, who was designated by the family to talk to the media, said Gandolfini, had had a good time with his 13-year-old son Michael and there was no hint anything was wrong.

"He had a wonderful day. He visited the Vatican and had dinner at the hotel with his son, awaiting the arrival of his (Gandolfini's) sister," Kobold said.

"He was on vacation with his son, he has an eight-month-old daughter. Everything was going really great. I just spoke to him on Father's Day. He was fine, he was happy. He was a good guy," Kobold said.

The star was found dead in his Rome hotel late on Wednesday.

His sister, Leta Gandfolfini, visited his body at the hospital morgue on Friday morning after the autopsy.

Asked if Gandolfini had previous heart problems, Kobold said: "No. He was happy. He was healthy. He was doing really fine."

Gandolfini, whose performance as New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano made him a household name and helped usher in a new era of American television drama, had been scheduled to attend the closing of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily on Saturday.


Gandolfini's manager, Mark Armstrong, said in an email the actor's son, Michael, found him collapsed in the bathroom of his Rome hotel room but Kobold refused to comment on that.

Claudio Modini, the emergency room chief, told Reuters on Thursday doctors had tried to resuscitate Gandolfini for 40 minutes when he arrived at the hospital.

Kobold said Gandolfini's body would be embalmed, which is not a common practice in Italy, ahead of its return to the United States, probably next week. The family hoped to have the funeral in New York City late next week.

It normally took up to 10 days to return a body but the family was working with Italian authorities to speed up the procedure, he added.

"We are all devastated by this loss. James was a devoted husband, a loving father of two children and a brother and cousin you could always count on," he said.

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.

Apart from Michael, his son with his first wife, who he divorced in 2002, Gandolfini is survived by wife, Deborah Lin and baby daughter Liliana, born last year.

In the HBO series, the burly, physically imposing Gandolfini created a gangster different from any previously seen in American television or film.

Tony Soprano was capable of killing enemies with his own hands but was prone to panic attacks. He regularly saw a therapist to work out his anxiety problems.

(Additional reporting by Antonio Denti in Rome and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Heavens)