So I’m still in a little bit of shock and really saddened by the death of James Gandolfini … what a tragic loss, and so young … his best was yet to come. I don’t get all worked up about celebrity deaths, but in my book this is right up there with Jerry Garcia, Clarence Clemons and Charles M. Schultz. Beyond The Sopranos, which I loved, I’ve followed him in everything he’s done, and he was probably my favorite actor … I loved his whole persona, the whole uneasy mix of brutal lion and tender, vulnerable pussycat.
I just recently saw Mr. Gandolfini in the film Killing Them Softly with Brad Pitt in which he plays a bitter, washed-up hit man, too drunk to do his job. He was typically perfect in the role and like Tony Soprano, he made you feel strongly for this really awful man who has done many bad things … he made you see the human being. Really astonishing, but typical of his post-Sopranos roles in which he returned to being the character actor that he always prided in being. He was an actor’s actor and for fans of excellent cinema he will be sorely missed.
Much has been written and tweeted about Mr. Gandolfini this week, his skills as an actor, his active support of wounded Iraq/Afghanistan troops, and the fact that he was reportedly a really decent man, treating people with respect, warmth and kindness. And much has been written about the Tony Soprano character he created and the complexity he brought to this amoral monster of a man. That he could make us root for this man is a testimony to his skills as an actor.
He was almost always cast as tough guys or authority figures of some kind, and his imposing stature suited that well. But it was the humanity and the vulnerability he brought to his roles that I will always remember, and what I will really miss. I’ll miss getting excited about seeing his name in the opening credits because I knew I was about to see something special.
From the imposing general in the hilarious In The Loop to Carol, the kindly but troubled creature in Where The Wild Things Are, I could rattle off my favorite James Gandolfini roles. But I wanted to salute James Gandolfini not with a clip from The Sopranos or any of his films, but with this clip from Sesame Street, of all places, in which James Gandolfini teaches kids that it’s okay to be scared. Look at this big man tenderly holding a Muppet and then try to think of Tony Soprano.
Rest In Peace, James Gandolfini. Truly one of the greats.