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James Gandolfini worried his friends over his lack of concern about his health

James Gandolfini died while vacatiRome Wednesday. | GETTY IMAGES

James Gandolfini died while on vacation in Rome on Wednesday. | GETTY IMAGES

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Updated: July 22, 2013 2:45PM

Without question, James Gandolfini’s tragic passing has deeply upset the legion of actors who not only worked with him, but also became close friends. However, in the wake of his death, several top Hollywood insiders told this column Thursday there had long been concerns among many people close to “The Sopranos” star.

“Jimmy used to joke about not taking care of himself. He smoked and didn’t exercise, and he LOVED good food — and lots of it. While a couple of us would gently chide him about not taking better care of himself,” he would just laugh it off and change the subject,” said an actor who had worked with Gandolfini on several projects over the years.

Another source — a studio honcho who also counted Gandolfini as a pal — said that he even used the recent birth of the actor’s daughter, Liliana, to goad him into watching his weight and getting into better shape.

“Jimmy would just smile and say, ‘I know that’s right. But I just love to eat and enjoy life.’ … How sad, that this great guy — besides being a phenomenal actor — had his life cut short at such a young age.”

† The death of Gandolfini has upset the entertainment community much more so than the death of any other star in a long time.

“The combination of his relatively young age, his gigantic talent and perhaps most important — the respect everyone had for him both as an actor and a human being — is the reason for this outpouring of grief,” said a longtime HBO executive who worked with Gandolfini on “The Sopranos” and who requested anonymity because “I don’t want to use this tragic death to promote myself,” said the source. “At this time, we all simply need to focus on Jimmy’s memory and support his family at this time of unbelievable shock and grief.”

† One local remembrance about “The Sopranos” star came from restaurateur Alex Dana, who remembered the first time Gandolfini visited the Rosebud on Rush. Word leaked out about the actor being in the restaurant. “There were so many people at the entry way, that he backed up and we had to sneak him around the back.”

MOVIE SCHMOOZE: Of course we won’t know the final numbers of this big opening weekend at the box office until the figures hit Sunday, but according to Fandango, Disney/Pixar’s animated “Monsters University” is tracking 50 percent better — at this point — than last year’s animated Oscar winner, “Brave.”

† Of course Brad Pitt’s “World War Z” zombie thriller is expected to open strong, and that’s led the folks at Chatham 14 Theaters on the South Side to invite local residents to join the multiplex’s “Ghoul-Fest” by donning zombie gear and makeup and participating in a Michael Jackson “Thriller” dance-off contest for free tickets and other prizes. The “Thriller” performance is slated for 6 p.m. Friday at the theaters, 210 W. 87th —before the 7:45 screening of the film. Popular Chicago-based Jackson impersonator Ed Hollis will be on hand to lead the fun.

FIGHTING VIOLENCE: St. Sabina’s Rev. Michael Pleger is hoping to beat last year’s turnout of 2,000 as he calls Chicago to “Occupy the Streets,” beginning at 7 p.m. Friday with a big rally at the front of St. Sabina’s Church, 7800 S. Throop. It’s all tied to Friday being the first day of summer, following yet another weekend of violence last week.

Father Pfleger said, “We have had a cool spring, but this Friday summer begins and public schools are about to begin summer break.”

The activist priest is hopeful Chicagoans will “take control of our streets and communities, to be the blue light on their blocks for our chidren’s safety this summer.”

REMEMBERING BERNIE: Back in 2008, Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano interviewed Second City co-founder Bernie Sahlins about his career and the history of the famed improv mecca. In the wake of Sahlins’ death last weekend, they are replaying that show at 9 p.m. Sunday on “WGN Sunday Night Radio Special.”

SEEN ON THE SCENE: Sports fans loved seeing Michael Jordan and pro golfer Luke Donald dining with pals at River North hotspot Siena Tavern. … Former Hawks great Tony Esposito was seen greeting fans at Hubbard Inn the other night. … Some of Our Town’s Very Visibles turned out Wednesday for the opening celebration of the River North Hotel Triplex on North Clark — including Ald. Brendan Reilly, Deputy Mayor Steve Koch, uber-chef Rick Bayless, Bruce White and Suzy and Al Friedman. … Chicago boxing kingpin Bobby Hitz loved was spied hanging out with legendary rockers Chicago at Centro Ristorante.

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