Last night we all heard the tragic and untimely news that actor James Gandolfini had passed away, aged just 51.
Gandolfini, who is undoubtedly best known for his leading role as Tony Soprano in the ground-breaking American sitcom Sopranos, was on holiday when he suffered a massive heart attack, leaving behind his second wife, Deborah Lin, their daughter Liliana and a teenage son named Michael from his first marriage to Marcy Wudarski.
In this Twitter age celebrity deaths are reported and spread within minutes, and as is often the case crude jokes follow shortly after. Just look at the death of Margaret Thatcher where most of the Internet fell over itself in an attempt to make the quickest wittiest and most controversial gag.
Last night was different though, there were no jokes, no futile attempt at humour, just sadness and shock that one of the most loved and talented actors of a generation had died, way before his time.
Gandolfini was born in New Jersey in 1961, and his life before acting somewhat mirrors the role for which he would before world-renowned. He was awarded the title of ‘Class Flirt’ in his senior yearbook and worked as a bouncer at an on-campus pub at Rutgers University where he was enrolled on a Communication Studies degree. It seemed that he was always destined to play Tony Soprano.
What was so great about Tony was how although he was the all empowered Don of a Mafia organisation, he had deep inner struggles, regularly visiting a shrink to discuss his problems and strife. This wasn’t a normal bloodthirsty leader of a violent gang, he was a real person with real issues, someone you could sort of relate to, but only ever hope to emulate.
It’s tough to say whether he was a nice guy, he certainly had charm and he had moments where you’d feel warmer for watching his actions, like when he sat with the ill horse Pie-Oh-My, but there were also times where he was threatening and horrible, like when he belted that guy for seeing his ex-mistress. He was a loveable monster with a split personality, someone you’d love to be on the end of one of his all encompassing hugs but even more terrified of doing something to upset him.
Because of the length of The Sopranos series you felt as though you genuinely knew the character and all his idiosyncrasies, like the way he’d excessively fork his food about, the way he’d breath heavily when he got angry, the way his perennially sad eyes sometimes got so droopy he looked like he was about to pass out.
He would often be a terrible husband but there was never any doubt that he deeply loved his wife Carmella. He’d also be an obviously very difficult father for his children, but it was always so apparent that he had his children’s best wishes intrinsically attached to his heart.
The sharp writing was obviously genius but it was Gandolfini who really took the role of Tony and propelled it into TV folklore. It was a match made in sitcom heaven, one of the greatest characters of all time played by one of the best actors.
Away from The Sopranos Gandolfini also starred in The Man Who Wasn’t There, 8mm, In The Loop and this years Zero Dark Thirty, but it’ll be his portrayal as the Italian mobster that he will be most remembered for.
Gandolfini will forever go down as one of the all-time great actors, but aside from that he was also a very caring and even shy man, and as a human being he will be tragically missed even more.
RIP James Gandolfini (September 18, 1961 – June 19, 2013)