Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tony Soprano and I

The first episode of The Sopranos that I ever saw was the first episode of the series.

An Italian/American, balding, husky fellow sits in the waiting room of a therapist.  He fidgets, he fusses, he examines a statue of a nude in the waiting room and,  eventually, is called in to the doctor's office where, for the next five years, he'd lay his psyche bare and talk about his dysfunctional childhood, his relationship with his mother, his job, and his love life.

He's an odd guy this balding husky fellow.  Prone to fits of  rage, but also  sentimental enough that a flock of ducks wading in his backyard's swimming pool fills him with joy.

He suffers from debilitating panic attacks, but has been know to also strangle a man to death with his bare hands.

He is devoted to his wife and children, but he does not think twice about having sex with any woman who gives him the eye.

He chokes up over seemingly inconsequential things, but seems unmoved by the amount of cold blooded acts he and his compatriots  have engaged in.

While I personally, have never killed anyone, nor have I ever belonged to the Cosa Nostra, I always related to Tony Soprano.

I have a strained and somewhat dysfunctional relationship with my mother.

I have, in the past, had moments of red, hot, blind rage.

I suffer from panic attacks.

I am an Italian/American balding, husky fellow.

I am known to be sentimental to a fault - and can tear up over the most ridiculous things.

I love my family, and I love my significant other - but I often wonder how things might have turned out, had I traveled another route.

Like most of America, I was hypnotized by this character and his story - sure, it was the story of a Mafia family, but more than that, it was the stuff of Greek Tragedy.

The man who breathed life into this character, this Tony Soprano, one, James Gandolfini, managed to create a three dimensional man: a monster, a father, and a complex human being. It would have been so much easier had he just turned him into a stereotype - but he chose something more realistic.

Nobody is black and white, none of us. We are all shades of gray. 

I met James Gandolfini twice.  The first time was in the summer of 2001.  His show was just starting to catch fire, and he had agreed to appear at the office of a college roommate of his, a chiropractor in Moorestown, New Jersey.  He drove him self to this appearance, and a handful of fans were there.  I had my picture taken with him, and babbled on about how much I loved his performance on The Sopranos.  He looked me square in the eye and said, "Hey, you're a nice guy, thanks for the kind words".  And then he signed an autograph, and posed for a picture with me.   I remember that his hands were much bigger than mine, and that his voice was much less intimidating that Tony Soprano's.

In 2010, I met him again.  This time I was at the World Premiere of HBO's Boardwalk Empire.  It was the after party, and we were all in the court yard of the 30 Rock center.  A lot of celebrities were there, and the entire cast of The Soprano's was there as well.  James was walking up to complete strangers and taking pictures of them and shaking hands.  I saw him, and figured, what did I have to lose? So I went up to him and before I could do or say anything, he put his arm around me, and slapped me on the back,and said, "Hey, pal, how are ya'?" and then he moved on.   Once again, he did not sound at all like Tony Soprano.  If anything, he just reminded me of  a cousin or uncle one might bump into a party or a wedding.   I noticed that night, that he was taller than me, and how much of a "bear" he really was.

Last night, I discovered  that James Gandolfini had died.    For some strange reason, I have not felt this saddened by a celebrity's death since John Lennon's passing.  

My interactions with him in real-life were fleeting moments, I did not know him, I never spent any real time with him...and yet...I am heartbroken, saddened, deflated.

For some reason, the voice of Nancy Marchand as Livia Soprano (who played his mother in the series) rings true..."in the end you die in your own arms."

RIP, Mr. Gandolfini - and thanks for everything. 

Some guy and James G.


  1. He was a real paisan. I was saddened by his passing although I wasn't fortune enough to meet him. The world is a sorrier place for the loss of a genuinely good soul.

  2. Spectra, indeed, a good soul.

    PS, thanks for the comment.