James Gandolfini died at age 51 of a heart attack while on vacation in Rome. Best known for his iconic role as the modern mobster Tony Soprano, I first saw him as a gentle giant, a stuntman turned heavy in GET SHORTY. He played Bear, a quiet big guy who only cared about his daughter, and made some bad decisions while trying to support her.
Mr. Gandolfini actually had great range, if a voice as recognizable as Tony Curtis’s. He said he enjoyed playing blue collar roles because they are largely invisible, and when you have a blue collar accent, we are allowed to make fun of you (as in the mocking, “Da Castle of my Fadda,” which Curtis never actually said). He played one of the monsters in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. He sang WELL in ROMANCE & CIGARETTES (full review here). I didn’t recognize Gandolfini without his beard when he played the killer in TRUE ROMANCE, in a great scene in a movie full of great scenes.
He was the best part of the recent adaptation of George V. Higgins’ Cogan’s Trade, the middling KILLING THEM SOFTLY, which was good, but confused. His scenes were solid and focused, a hit man falling apart. Like with his Tony Soprano, he brought humanity to a monster from our cultural mythology, brought life to a character type we visualize in shadows and silhouettes. I don’t think he reached his potential. I regret not going to see him onstage in GOD OF CARNAGE and hope a show was filmed. His latest project with David Chase, NOT FADE AWAY, about kids starting a rock band in the ’60s, fizzled away. I haven’t seen it, but that always happens when artists defy expectations.
I never met James Gandolfini. I spent a half dozen years watching him in my home, on the Sopranos. He made me feel like I knew him. He inhabited the character in total. I recently ate ice cream at Holsten’s, where the final episode of the Sopranos was filmed. The house they filmed in is not far from where I live. The Bada-Bing is a few miles up the highway from where I work. I’m sure Sopranos Tours will see a boost, but I’ll wait until that dies down and embark on a brief pilgrimage to Tony. You can argue that Tony wasn’t whacked in the final scene, but you can’t deny that he’s truly gone now.
My heartfelt condolences to Mr. Gandolfini’s friends and family. He is survived by his wife and teenage son, and millions of fans who rooted for his greatest creation to murder everyone who stood in his way.
The “Sopranos” booth at Holsten’s. They serve the best ice cream in our area. I still haven’t had the onion rings. I’d probably cry.