James Gandolfini, aka Tony Soprano, just died in Italy at 51

James Gandolfini, aka Tony Soprano, just died in Italy at the age of 51 of a suspected heart attack, though some sites are saying a possible stroke.

The famous “Soprano’s” actor was in Italy for a movie festival in the beautiful Sicilian town of Taormina.  He i s survived by his wife, Deborah Lin, their daughter born last October, and a teenage son from a previous marriage.

The Miami Herald reported back in January that James Gandolfini had kept out of the spotlight in the five years since the Soprano’s ended, but that this year he was “back in a big way,” taking on three different TV roles.

James Gandolfini & wife at the premiere of his movie "Zero Dark Thirty" at the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood. December 10, 2012 Los Angeles, CA  Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

James Gandolfini & wife at the premiere of his movie “Zero Dark Thirty” at the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood. December 10, 2012 Los Angeles, CA Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

I particularly liked what Gandolfini had to say about one of the roles:

In Not Fade Away, Gandolfini, 51, reprises certain characteristics of Tony Soprano — an Italian patriarch displeased with his son — but the film also turns on a tender moment that bridges the generational divide.

“It’s the time when you find out, all of a sudden you realize as you get older, that maybe your father wasn’t just there to raise you, that he actually had dreams of his own and things that he wanted to do and things that he’s sacrificed,” says Gandolfini, a father of a 13-year-old son and, with his second wifeDeborah Lin, a 2-month-old girl.

Gandolfini grew up in New Jersey the son of a bricklayer and a high school lunch lady. His background clearly informs his attitude about acting.

I just started re-watching the Soprano’s again a few weeks ago.  I’m at the beginning of Season 4.

It’s quite a good show, if you’ve never watched.  Yes, it’s a mafia story, but it’s a good drama, even funny at parts, though it’s quite violent as well.

Watching the show again, I’m most captivated by James Gandolfini’s character, Tony Soprano, and his wife, and the overarching theme, or maybe contradiction, between this man being a killer – he’s a mafia chief – and his wife in essence being his accomplice (while she’s not involved in the business, she knows what he does for a living), but at the same time you see their humanity.  Then Tony goes and whacks someone else.

James Gandolfini & Edie Falco at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA. January 27, 2008 Los Angeles, CA. Picture: Paul Smith / Featureflash (Featureflash / Shutterstock.com)

James Gandolfini & Edie Falco at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA. January 27, 2008 Los Angeles, CA. Picture: Paul Smith / Featureflash (Featureflash / Shutterstock.com)

I think I was most struck when Gandolfini’s wife on the show, “Carmella,” wonderfully played by Edie Falco, yells at a cop or the FBI about how they’re only targeting them because they’re Italian, and she clearly believes it.  While she lets on in other parts of the show that she knows what he does, and isn’t always comfortable with her role.

It’s the humanity of the show, the lovability of the characters, even though none of them are particularly nice people, that makes it an enjoyable watch.

LOS ANGELES - MAY 5: James Gandolfini arriving at the 4th Annual Television Academy Honors at Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5, 2011 in Beverly Hills, CA (Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com)

LOS ANGELES – MAY 5: James Gandolfini arriving at the 4th Annual Television Academy Honors at Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5, 2011 in Beverly Hills, CA (Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com)

I don’t why I get sad when famous people die.  I think for those of us who really enjoy television, like me (or a movie), it’s less that I identify with the man, and more that his role in the culture somehow makes him serve as my contemporary.  He’s supposed to be there.  And when he dies, maybe it means I can die too, or at the very least the culture that surrounds me, and comforts me, is ephemeral.

I’ve always found the concept fascinating, and disturbing, that in 100 years everyone that’s alive today is pretty much dead.  And while cities change significantly over such a long period, the changes are less remarkable on a day to day basis, making it seem almost as though each individual player is dispensable – life goes on without you.  And while perhaps I should find that notion comforting.  I don’t always.

Maybe it’s simply because I’m watching the show right now.  And a good TV show is, to me, much like a good book.  You become a part of the story for its duration.

And when it’s over, it takes some time to fill the hole.

PS Here’s a wonderful video of Gandolfini on Sesame Street.

NB My friend Ryan says James Gandolfini’s appearance on Inside the Actor’s Studio is particularly good.

Here it is:


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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