Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Gandolfini Remembered: More Than Tony Soprano

James Gandolfini plays opposite Brad Pitt in the film Killing Them Softly.

Actor James Gandolfini has died suddenly after a suspected heart attack while on holiday in Rome. He was in Italy to attend the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily. He was 51.

Of course, Gandolfini will be forever known for his portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano on the TV series of the same name.

Gandolfini has the girth, the tough-guy image and the Joizee accent to play a mobster. The accent came naturally since he was a true New Jersey native since he was born in Westwood, NJ and graduated from Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey.

“It’s an awful shock," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said today when hearing of Gandolfini's untimely death. "James Gandolfini was a fine actor, a Rutgers alum and a true Jersey guy. I was a huge fan of his and the character he played so authentically, Tony Soprano. I have gotten to know Jimmy and many of the other actors in the Sopranos cast and I can say that each of them are an individual New Jersey treasure. Mary Pat and I express our deepest sympathies to Mr. Gandolfini’s wife and children, and our prayers are with them at this terrible time.”

After he graduated from college Gandolfini actually spent years as a Manhattan bouncer and nightclub manager.

He discovered his true calling in the late 1980s when a friend took him to an acting class.

It wasn't long before he his Broadway debut in the 1992 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire with Jessica Lange. Yes, he was a trained New York stage actor -- a very fine actor. His New York stage credits also included On the Waterfront, One Day Wonder with the Actor’s Studio, and Tarantulas Dancing at the Samuel Beckett Theatre.

He broke into movies when he was cast in small but crucial roles as Geena Davis’ plumber boyfriend in Angie, a loyal Navy lieutenant in Crimson Tide and the enforcer/stuntman in Get Shorty.

Then, like many rough-hewn Italian actors he was asked to play a mobster. When he did so in the film True Romance, that paved the way for his landmark role in The Sopranos.

It would be a damned shame if we remembered James Gandolfini simply as Tony Soprano.

He was much more than that.

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