Tuesday, June 25, 2013
James Joseph Gandolfini, Jr. (September 18, 1961-June 19, 2013)
James Joseph Gandolfini, Jr. was an American actor best known for his role in The Sopranos as Tony Soprano, a troubled crime boss.
Gandolfini was born in Westwood, New Jersey. His mother, Santa, a high school lunch lady, was born in the USA of Italian ancestry and raised in Naples, Italy. His father, James Joseph Gandolfini, Sr., a native of Borgotaro, Italy, was a bricklayer and cement mason and was later the head custodian at Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey. James, Sr. earned a Purple Heart in World War II. Gandolfini's parents were devout Roman Catholics and spoke Italian at home. Due to the influence of his parents, he developed a strong sense of being Italian and visited Italy regularly.
He grew up in Park Ridge, New Jersey and graduated from Park Ridge High School in 1979, where he played basketball, acted in school plays, and was awarded the title "Class Flirt" in his senior yearbook. He attained a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication studies from Rutgers University. He was introduced to acting as a young man living in New York City when he accompanied friend Roger Bart to a Meisner technique acting class.
Gandolfini's most acclaimed role was that of Tony Soprano, a New Jersey Mafia boss and family man who was the lead character in the HBO drama The Sopranos, which debuted in 1999 and ran through 2007. He won three Emmys for "Best Actor in a Drama" for his depiction of Soprano, who constantly questions his identity and purpose. Entertainment Weekly listed him as the 42nd Greatest TV Icon of All Time.
Film and stage work
Gandolfini performed in a 1992 Broadway production of On the Waterfront for six weeks. One of his best-known film roles was that of Virgil, a brutal woman-beating mob enforcer, in the 1993 romantic thriller True Romance. Gandolfini said that one of his major inspirations for the role of Virgil, in True Romance, was an old friend of his who was a hitman. In the 1994 film Terminal Velocity, Gandolfini played Ben Pinkwater, a seemingly mild-mannered insurance man who turns out to be a violent Russian mobster. In Get Shorty (1995), he appeared as a bearded ex-stuntman with a Southern accent, and in The Juror (1996), he played a mob enforcer with a conscience. He played the Mayor of New York in the 2009 remake of The Taking of Pelham 123. Gandolfini returned to HBO in 2007 as the executive producer of the Emmy-nominated documentary special, Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq, his first project after The Sopranos and the first production for his company Attaboy Films, which was opened in 2006 with producing partner Alexandra Ryan. He returned to the stage in 2009, appearing in Broadway's God of Carnage with Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels. He was executive producer of the 2012 HBO film about Ernest Hemingway and his relationship with Martha Gellhorn, titled Hemingway & Gellhorn, starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman. Gandolfini reunited with Sopranos creator David Chase for Not Fade Away (2012), a music-driven production set in 1960s New Jersey.
Alive Day: Home from Iraq
Gandolfini and Tony Sirico visit with a member of the U.S. Air Force during a USO visit to Southwest Asia, March 31, 2010. In 2007, Gandolfini produced a documentary with HBO focused on injured Iraq War veterans and their devotion to America, while surveying the physical and emotional costs of war. Ten surviving soldiers were interviewed by Gandolfini, who revealed their thoughts on the challenges they face integrating back into society and family life. They also reflected on the memories of the day when they narrowly escaped death, and what life may have been like in other circumstances.
In 2010, Gandolfini produced another documentary with HBO, which analyzed the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) throughout American history, from 1861 to 2010. It featured interviews with American military officials on their views of PTSD and how they are trying to help soldiers affected by it. Letters from soldiers of the American Civil War and World War I who were affected by PTSD are examined, along with interviews with soldiers affected by PTSD and their families.
Death and reaction
Gandolfini died on June 19, 2013, during a brief vacation in Rome, Italy. He was expected to travel to Sicily on June 22 to receive an award at the Taormina Film Fest. Following a day of sightseeing in Rome in sweltering heat, Gandolfini's 13-year-old son Michael discovered him around 10 pm local time on the bathroom floor at the Boscolo Exedra Hotel in Rome's Piazza della Repubblica. Michael called hotel reception, who in turn called emergency paramedics. Ambulance staff arrived around 10:40 pm and attempted to resuscitate Gandolfini, who was reportedly still alive at the hotel but subsequently died en route to the hospital. An autopsy on Gandolfini confirmed that he had died of a heart attack.
Word of his death spread among Gandolfini's friends, former co-stars, and fans. Politicans such as John McCain and Chris Christie took to the Internet to respond to his death. Christie ordered all New Jersey State buildings to fly flags at half staff on June 24, to honor Gandolfini when his remains return to the United States. The day following his death, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which features Gandolfini's Sopranos co-star Steven Van Zandt on guitar, gave a full album performance of their 1975 classic Born to Run and dedicated it to Gandolfini.
Gandolfini's body was returned to the United States on June 23. His family spokesman, Michael Kobold, thanked Italian authorities for expediting the repatriation process, which normally takes 7 full days. His funeral service will be held on Thursday, June 27, at the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights, New York City.