James Gandolfini of The Sopranos

What sad news today: the actor James Gandolfini has died while in Italy attending a film festival. He was 51.

Gandolfini was best known for his role as troubled Mafia boss Tony Soprano in HBO’s epic The Sopranos. This groundbreaking series ran for six seasons (86 episodes) between 1999 and 2007, and won a clutch of awards, including three Outstanding Lead Actor Emmys for Gandolfini (with cigar, bottom right). It was recently voted the best-written TV show of all time by the Writers Guild of America.

I vividly remember watching the first episode of The Sopranos. Within seconds, I’d been hooked by the incredible opening sequence, which sees Tony Soprano driving home to New Jersey accompanied by the thumping bass and harmonica of Alabama 3‘s ‘Woke up this Morning’. And then the magnificent premise: a brutal mob boss who has panic attacks and is in therapy; who struggles to balance his activities as the head of a criminal organisation with a demanding home life; who has mixed feelings, to say the least, about his domineering mother Livia. Just brilliant.

The Sopranos bristled with fine acting (Edie Falco’s Carmela is a particular favourite), and is in many ways an ensemble piece. But Gandolfini’s central performance as Tony Soprano was undoubtedly crucial to the success of the series, and remains an outstanding portrait of a conflicted criminal and anti-hero.

If you haven’t yet seen The Sopranos, there’s never been a better time to start.

Further links

James Gandolfini: Master Soprano, dies of suspected heart-attack in Italy, The Guardian

James Gandolfini: Sopranos Superstar, The Guardian (obituary)

James Gandolfini is dead at 51: A Complex Mob Boss in The Sopranos, New York Times

James Gandolfini (1961-2013): As a Made Man, He Made TV Great, Time Entertainment

James Gandolfini’s Life in Pictures, The Guardian

HBO Sopranos website

The 101 Best-Written TV Shows: The Sopranos tops WGA list, HuffPost TV

The Guardian’s Top 50 Television Dramas of All Time (Sopranos at No. 1)

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12 thoughts on “James Gandolfini of The Sopranos

  1. Gandolfini was indeed a good actor. We enjoyed the Sopranos, at least three seasons worth, and several of the movies he was in (In the Loop, Get Shorty, Crimson Tide….). Thanks for gathering those links.

    • You’re welcome, TracyK. I hadn’t been fully aware before reading those articles 1. how late he came to acting and 2. the range of roles he had played during his career.

  2. I think I must be the only human being in the western world to have never seen a single episode of the Sopranos…the whole mafia/gangster thing just turns me off though I am a fan of Gandolfini’s acting – one of my favourite performances of his was In The Loop. It’s a sad loss indeed

    • Thanks, Bernadette – yes, I enjoyed his role in In the Loop as well 🙂

      I wonder if it might be worth sampling the first episode of The Sopranos to get a glimpse of its quality and innovation. The relationship between Dr. Melfi, the therapist, and Tony Soprano elevates the narrative to something well above
      the usual mafia / gangster fare. I’m seriously tempted to rewatch the whole lot!

  3. I join with Bernadette on this one. I haven’t seen an episode of the Sopranos either. The mob/gangster genre turns me off, too.
    This reminds me of a relative who is a therapist, working at a community health center. A very anxious man came in for an appointment to deal wit his anxiety. His profession: mob hit man.

  4. I think the relative told the mob hit man that they couldn’t help him, that he had to quit his job.
    Anyway, although I didn’t watch The Sopranos, I find it awful that a 51-year-old individual died of heart disease, in particular, a father of two children, one a baby. The grief of his spouse in having to be alone raising their child, coupled with the grief of his teenaged son will be terrible, so for that I am sympathetic.

  5. I share every bit of your sorrow for the loss of Gandolfini.
    The Sopranos is probably, perhaps undoubtedly, the best-written television series of all time, and there is no imagining any of it without him.
    I have been hoping for years that they’d do a movie, but with Gandolfini’s death, I don’t see how that would be possible, do you?
    Thank you, thank you, for the heartfelt tribute.
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

    • You’re welcome, Judith – a very sad loss indeed. I can’t see that a film would be possible or advisable without Gandolfini – he really was the heart of the whole piece. At least the Sopranos series are intact and will always be there for us to remember his fine acting.

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