James Gandolfini's body is on a private flight to New York

The body of actor James Gandolfini was being returned to the United States on Sunday evening, reports Reuters.

Airport officials told Reuters that the body of "The Sopranos" actor was flown out of Rome's Fiumicino Airport around noon ET on a private flight to New York.

Speaking to reporters in Rome, family friend Michael Kobold thanked the Italian authorities and US Secretary of State John Kerry for helping to bring Gandolfini's body home quickly.

"We are fully aware that this process usually takes seven days and we are extremely grateful for their efficiency in dealing with this matter," Michael Kobold said in a statement Saturday. "It has been our privilege to be guests in your beautiful country, despite the difficult circumstances."

The 51-year-old actor died Wednesday in Rome while on vacation with his family. Gandolfini was planning to travel to Sicily to attend the closing of the Taormina Film Festival on Saturday.

Kobold previously announced that an autopsy done on the actor showed that Gandolfini died of a "heart attack of natural causes" and "nothing else was found in his system."

"James came here on vacation with family," Kobold said. "On Wednesday he went to visit the Vatican, and had dinner at the hotel with his son while waiting for his sister ... All are devastated for his loss. He was a loving father."

"He was happy, healthy, on vacation with his son," Kobold added. "He was fine."

An HBO spokesperson told NBC New York that the funeral was scheduled for Thursday at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan.