James Gandolfini’s Early Struggles: ‘I Throw Everything in Plastic Garbage Bags’

1988 New York Times article reveals how tough his early life was before "The Sopranos"

James Gandolfini's improbable rise to fame at the age of 38 came after years of struggle.

The actor, who died Wednesday at 51 of an apparent heart attack, broke through as an actor after years of hardship. Just how much he lived on the edge was clear from a pre-fame 1988 New York Times piece in which the then-26-year-old "Jim" Gandolfini discussed his peripatetic lifestyle.

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Entitled "The Apartment Gypsies of Manhattan," the piece by Lisa W. Foderaro looked at the challenges of living in the city on a shoestring budget.

The future Tony Soprano told Foderaro that in his first four years living in New York City, he never signed a lease and never lived in any one place for more than 10 months at a time. Among the neighborhoods he briefly called home were Hoboken, N.J.; Astoria, Queens; and Park Slope, Brooklyn.

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''Moving, to me, is no big deal,''Gandolfini says. ''I have a system down. I throw everything in plastic garbage bags and can be situated in my new place in minutes. Without my name on a lease, I'm in and out. I have no responsibilities.''

Foderaro notes that Gandolfini's "calling is the theater," but writes that he makes ends meet thanks to bartending and construction jobs.

"I was saddened by the news [of his death] but that article was written so long ago," Foderaro told TheWrap via email. "I'm afraid I don't have anything to add."