James Gandolfini, 1961-2013

obit-james-gandolfiniShocking, of course, to hear of the death of James Gandolfini today in Italy at only the age of 51.

A great actor with serious gravitas, he played a big part in helping change television with his trademark role as Tony Soprano. It’s likely that David Chase’s “The Sopranos” would have still been a great series without Gandolfini, but would anyone have watched?

Gandolfini, in his brooding, his unspoken menace (and occasionally spoken menace), his vulnerabilities and his sheer relatability. His was a role about not so much a mobster but of anyman with the usual pressures of job, family and approaching middle age.

He ate ice cream while watching the History Channel like we did, got the morning paper while wearing a bathrobe as we did, and took his daughter on a college tour like we did (though we didn’t also kill a guy).

Gandolfini so embodied the role it likely curbed his opportunities to do anything else. He did turn out a couple of other good things for HBO, though – most recently as the director who made the first docu-reality series, “An American Family,” as portrayed in the underrated TV film “Cinema Verite.” Gandolfini was almost unrecognizable as his former towering character in his nuanced, winning performance.

He played the role of filmmaker for an issue close to his heart, the 2007

“Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq,” in which he sat with 10 severely injured soldiers to hear their stories about their experiences in the war, the losses they suffered and their lives since they returned to in the states.

“I was playing this tough guy on TV and I guess I wanted to go meet a few real ones,” Gandolfini told reporters at a TV Critics Association session in Los Angeles seven years ago.

“I was angry about the lack of attention that was being paid [to them]. I wanted to do something.”

Because he was such a compelling figure, he knew anything he did would attract attention, why not share it with something important?

Gandolfini, who was only 51, died of cardiac arrest.

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