By Devon Wendell
James Gandolfini died on Wednesday. He was never a musician, to the best of my knowledge, but he played the role of Tony Soprano with the high drama of a Puccini opera.
Sometime around 2001, after The Sopranos had already become a huge hit on HBO, I found out that the man himself, the star of the show James Gandolfini, who played the head mafia boss Tony Soprano, was from Westwood New Jersey. Aside from my grandparents on my father’s side as well as my dad, aunt, and uncle, I didn’t think anyone was from Westwood, a small suburban town in Bergen County New Jersey, right outside of Paramus.
Growing up in Brooklyn, before the gentrification pushed away most of New York’s ethnicity, there were plenty of guys who had the charm, wit, and toughness of Tony Soprano, or more importantly the soulfulness that Gandolfini brought to that character.
My aunt (who passed away in February of this year) had remained in the home that she, my dad, and uncle Frank were raised in, in Westwood New Jersey by my grandparents.
During some tough times in my life, she had let me move back in on the top floor. I’d venture into the small town to find some signs of life and often I would see Gandolfini perusing the local shops. I’d also see him on his motor- scooter, riding along the Westside Highway in Manhattan. Wherever I would see him, people would yell out; “Hey Tony!” and he’d always wave to his fans and smile with gratitude.
Gandolfini brought the spirit and attitude of the rock n’ roll music that Sopranos producer David Chase would make part of the show’s score and ever present landscape. No one else could have brought so much to one role as he did. Although Tony was a bigoted, misogynist criminal, he was lovable, much like Carol O’Connor’s portrayal of Archie Bunker on All In The Family. Gandolfini made us see past the flaws of the character and right into the heart of the man. Gandolfini had starred in many films over the last two and a half decades but his acting choices for the role of Tony Soprano will live with us forever, white bathrobe and all.
Gandolfini passed away of a heart attack in Rome. He will surely be missed.
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