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