The crime based drama ran for 6 seasons (1999-2007) and during it's triumphant run deservedly won Gandolfini 3 Emmy Awards, 3 Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Golden Globe as Best Actor. He and the show both found huge success with critics and audiences worldwide. Indeed, only earlier this month the esteemed Writer's Guild Of America released a list, 'The 101 Best Written TV Series Of All Time' and 'The Sopranos' came out on top! This came as no surprise to me as I believe the show is the greatest TV drama ever, and in no small part must some of the credit go to James Gandolfini, whose central role of Tony Soprano held the whole epic saga together. Though outwardly it may have looked like just another ganagster show that depended on the body count to hold viewers to the story, 'The Sopranos' (created by David Chase) was an animal of a different sort, really a morality tale about a man juggling between his professional and personal life. It just so happened that his professional life involved the murky world of organised crime. As we followed this character we learned he was a very complex person, who although being quite easily capable of hideous acts of violence (both mental and physical), actually was not a monster, but loved his family and had decent values hidden deep within himself. Gandolfini played Soprano with such skill that with all his faults on display, he made him human, therefore enabling you the viewer to at times actually identify with this ruthless killer.
On learning of the sad news of Gandolfini's passing, David Chase made a statement. "He was a genius. Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of our greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes." Another New Jersey connection, Steven Van Zandt, long time guitarist with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band appeared on 'The Sopranos' througout it's run as Silvio Dante, consigliere (advisor and right hand man) to Tony Soprano, also tweeted "I have lost a brother and a best friend. The world has lost one of the greatest actors of all time." The two actors recently worked together again on another David Chase project, a musical set in the 60's, in New Jersey (where else?!) called 'Not Fade Away'. The actress Edie Falco (who also received Emmy Awards for her portrayal of Carmela Soprano, Tony's wife said of the actor "A man of tremendous depth and sensitivity, with a kindness and generosity beyond words". After playing the iconic gangster for so many years, in recent time Gandolfini was enjoying stretching his many talents by taking on completely different roles as was seen in Kathryn Bigelow's Osama Bin Laden drama, 'Zero Dark Thirty' where he played US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the remake of 'The Taking Of Pelham 123' (starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta) as the Mayor of New York.
Sadly, James Gandolfini leaves behind a wife, Deborah and a daughter, Liliana who was born in 2012, also a teenage son, Michael from a previous marriage. As I mourn his passing one of the many memories that spring to mind was he being at the centre of one of the most famous TV finales of all time. It is a mark to the brillance of writer David Chase and the relationship we, the audience had formed with Tony Soprano over the years that to this day the ending of 'The Sopranos' is still discussed in minute detail. For those who have never seen it, or would like to re-live it again, I have included the ending right here. It is set in a diner where Tony Soprano is waiting for all of the members of his family to arrive. As he does so he checks out the various suspicious looking characters walking in and picks a song from the jukebox. The record he eventually chooses is 'Don't Stop Believin' by Journey, and while the lead singer Steve Perry is belting out the chorus, everything suddenly stops! We are left with a silent black screen. The group Journey made a statement - "It's truly an honour to have been able to share one of the greatest moments ever on TV history with James Gandolfini. He was an amzazing actor - taken away too young - and he'll be missed. Our condolences go out to his family".
R.I.P. James Gandolfini