Overweight, balding, rough around the edges with a thick New Jersey accent, Gandolfini was the opposite of a marquee leading man, destined to be a character actor, and yet he proved through his masterful acting that he could make Tony Soprano sexy and smart, towering and powerful. his portrayal was one of TV’s largest-looming TV anti-heroes — the schlub we loved, the cruel monster we hated, the anxiety-ridden husband and father we wanted to hug in midlife crisis when he bemoaned, “I’m afraid I’m going to lose my family. Like I lost the ducks.” In the most maddening series finale in recent history – an episode chock full of references to mortality (life, death, a William Butler Yeats reference to the apocalypse, a bathroom reference to a “Godfather” bloodbath) — his was the show’s last image, seen just as the words “Don’t stop” were being sung on the jukebox. It generated such extreme reaction that the series’ fans crashed HBO’s website for a time that night trying to register their outrage that it ended with a black screen, leaving them not knowing whether Tony Soprano had been whacked. … In large part to Gandolfini’s charisma (“Jimmy was the spiritual core of our Sopranos family,” Chris Albright noted today), that Season 5 of The Sopranos in 2004 remains the most watched series in HBO history with 14.4 million viewers on average.
I’m not going to try the pretentious route of naming James Gandolfini’s other roles that are less obvious than The Sopranos because let’s recognize exactly what it was: The evolutionary moment when television said, “You know what Hollywood? You go ahead and make reboots and disaster porn and Paul Blart 2: Paul Blart Fart, we’re gonna do something different.” It sounds cliche, but The Sopranos literally redefined television and paved the way for such awesome fucking gems as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Deadwood and a whole bunch of others I’m forgetting. None of which wouldn’t have happened without James Gandolfini bringing it every Sunday. Not to mention, on a more personal note, I say, “She was a who-ah, Tony,” in Ralphie’s voice at least five times a day.
Thanks, Jim. Rest in Peace.