The other night I was sitting at dinner waiting for the Chicago Blackhawks to start their finals playoff with Boston. It was then that a CNN alert came across my phone reporting that James Gandolfini had died. I must say that was an alert that I really didn't want to see nor did I believe. The last time I was shocked like this by a celebrity death was 33 years ago when John Lennon was killed. Really!
I have met James Gandolfini at least 86 times. Not in person mind you but every Sunday when the A3 song came on (woke up this morning, got myself a gun). You know what I'm talking about. When I first heard about the HBO show The Sopranos I said to myself "who wants to watch a drama about opera singers?" I was not the early adopter that people thought I was of this, now classic, piece of TV history. It took me about 5 or six episodes to find out what this show was really about. When I was able to retrieve the back episodes of this suburban gangster yuppie show, that was it , I was hooked! Hooked in a big way. I think I had a 27 inch screen at the time but when James Gandolfini came on I realized that the TV in my living room just wasn't big enough for the talent and presence that came before me in the form of Tony Soprano.
The James Gandolfini we saw in season 1 of The Sopranos was certainly not the same looking James Gandolfini we saw in the final season 6. I think he must have gained at least 70 lbs. during the 86 episode run. I read that this weight gain was by design. Mr. Gandolfini once said that his weight gain wasn't a concern to him. As a matter of fact it made him more believable. "Who wants to see a skinny mob boss?"
We saw him befriend ducks that would camp out in his pool. We saw him barbeque sausiche on his grill during family parties as well as attend Meadow's soccer games and music recitals and boating with son AJ. We also saw him murder, cheat on his wife Carmela, beat the crap out of people as he was being a devoted son to a narcissistic, joyless mother Livia Soprano. It was the first episode that we also saw the beginning of his panic attacks which necessitated the need for him to see a psychiatrist (Dr. Jennifer Melfi).
Now for all you Sopranos fans I won't go into a total summary of the series here but just the above contradictions in Tony's personality made him a VERY compelling human being. I really don't know what part of him was most compelling but I can tell you I don't think it was the murder part. I did like his rage and his impatience with people who pissed him off, actively or passively. I also admired his loyalty to his friends and family and creatures great and small. This is what the genius of James Gandolfini brought to the "little" screen. The ability to pull it off so freakin' well. Fuggedaboutit!
As the series went on (too much time between seasons) it was almost an event when a new episode came on. Especially the first one of a new season. It was always worth the wait. It's hard to believe that this series has been off the air for almost 6 years now but like The Beatles music I have replayed these episodes over and over and over again after purchasing the box set.
The Sopranos was not the first time I had seen James Gandolfini present his acting genius. Whether it was the role of Virgil in True Romance, Bear in Get Shorty, Al Love in Civil Action, the gay hitman Winston Baldry in The Mexican the despicable Eddie Poole in 8mm or even Leon Panetta in the recent Zero Dark Thirty his Cinema Verite of 45 films is an acting class for those who want to survive as an actor without necessarily being the lead. He has played characters that we are sympathetic to and characters we totally hate..even characters who were quite comedic such as Tom Valco in Surviving Christmas.
Yes it was Tony Soprano who cemented James Gandolfini into an acting treasure but I dare say that if someone wanted to create a film festival featuring just movies he has been in it will be one of the best. I miss Tony Soprano and just like the Beatles there will be no sequel or prequel because it just wouldn't translate into the work of art that the Emmy award winning James Gandolfini made it. I would like to think that the blackout of the final episode of the series was not "lights out" for Tony but just an abrupt way of telling us that even though their lives will go on we just won't be able to see it anymore. Rest In Peace T!