The reality about the late, great James Gandolfini: No matter how many eulogy essays come out about his superlative work as a character actor in the movies, he'll always be Tony Soprano. He'll always be remembered as the star of HBO's industry-shifting The Sopranos, the groundbreaking mob drama in which Gandolfini and creator David Chase broke all of TV's rules by making a murderer into a lovable man. Without Tony Soprano, there'd be no Vic Mackey, no Don Draper, no Walter White. And because of that, Gandolfini's legacy was cemented long before his tragic, untimely passing yesterday, at 51, from cardiac arrest.
Frankly, there can't be enough written about The Sopranos and Gandolfini's importance as its leading man, but there were also the sides to the Westwood, New Jersey, native that haven't been so well documented. Not that he wanted them covered, either. Gandolfini wasn't one for interviews, earning a reputation for being physically uncomfortable during media opportunities, though not unpleasant. As Vulture critic Matt Zoller-Seitz, who interacted with the actor numerous times during his Sopranos tenure, puts it in his eloquent tribute piece, "Anybody who had even the slightest contact with Gandolfini will testify to what a great guy he was, how full of life he was, how extraordinary he made other people feel. Yes, absolutely, he had problems…but so does everybody, to one degree or another. But whether he was feeling well or poorly, or living smartly or stupidly, there was always something about the guy that you wanted to embrace."
As longtime admirers of Gandolfini's work, as our Director of Content Strategy Joe La Puma's earnest essay makes clear, Complex felt compelled last night honor the man's lesser hailed performances and off-camera acts, the times when he wasn't Tony Soprano, the ruthless gangster, but James Gandolfini, the guy who could melt hearts by wearing his heart on his proverbial sleeve. These are James Gandolfini's most human moments.
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