I don’t normally write about things like the death of celebrities, but when I woke up this morning to an email saying that James Gandolfini had died, it made me stop and think. I grew up watching The Sopranos, a show that provided a glimpse in to the mysterious world of the Italian mafia — in my home state, the glorious New Jersey. On Sunday nights, my dad and I would go into the basement, eagerly anticipating each new episode.
One of the things that made The Sopranos so great was James Gandolfini, who played the complex main character, Tony Soprano. It is difficult for me to imagine him in any other role, so when I saw him in The Mexican, playing a very different part, it took me a while to get Tony out of my head.
When I went away to college, a friend of mine (of Italian heritage) who lived across the hall got into The Sopranos, and he and I spent many Saturdays watching three or four episodes at a time. This was not the best year of my life, and whenever I was homesick, it was nice to see signs for the Jersey Turnpike and other New Jersey icons.
For the Christmas we were in Tashkent, I requested on thing from my parents: the boxed DVD set of The Sopranos. Grant had watched all of The Wire during our year apart yet had never seen an episode of The Sopranos. During that long, cold winter in Uzbekistan, watching an episode after dinner became one of our rituals. The show is incredibly complex and well-written and was one of a few pivotal HBO series that altered television, making it the way it is today. (A shout out to Sex and the City here, as it was one of the others.)
According to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, James Gandolfini was “a New Jersey treasure.” Not only does The Sopranos take place there but Gandolfini also was born and raised in North Jersey. In fact, he has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey… sound familiar? My heart goes out to his family and friends; although Gandolfini has passed away, the character of Tony Soprano will forever live on, whenever someone watches a Sopranos rerun on TV or pops in a DVD.