Portrait of Gandolfini

Goodbye to a Wild Thing: James Gandolfini died in Italy at 51.

Sad news, tonight: James Gandolfini is dead. From Variety’s obituary:

In a different, pre-HBO world, James Gandolfini the TV star never would have happened. Fox wanted Anthony LaPaglia for the lead role when they were developing “The Sopranos,” and it’s hard to imagine a major network having gone with a guy of Gandolfini’s limited profile at the time.

And from that perspective, just imagine what we would have missed. The news that Gandolfini has died — of an apparent heart attack at the age of 51 — comes as a shock to the system. Having his life cut short also ensures his signature role — as the conflicted, therapy-seeking mob boss Tony Soprano — will forever be indelibly etched to him, as if there was anything that could erase the connection, in the same way Carroll O’Connor will always be Archie Bunker.

Gandolfini established some solid feature credentials both before and after “The Sopranos” (to see a much slimmed-down version rent the movie “Angie,” starring Geena Davis), and he was sensational in the stage version of “God of Carnage.” But he was the sort of actor who would have spent his career as a classic second banana, the best friend or tough guy. David Chase and HBO’s decision to make him their leading man was an audacious bet — one of those serendipitous, life-altering moments that the business rarely braves.

The Sopranos was one of the pioneers of the modern era of challenging, intelligent storytelling on television, and as a result it will always be Gandolfini’s most memorable role. A lot of people are linking to the last scene and its famous onion rings, Journey song, and cutaway.

Yet I appreciated Twitter for reminding me of one of my favorite performances:

So tonight’s video is a clip of Gandolfini as “Carol” in the funny and moving Where the Wild Things Are, showing King Max around a scary part of kingdom. What comes after dust?

What was your favorite role? Or favorite Tony Soprano moment?

More: Gandolfini on Inside the Actors Studio last month, h/t Siun

 

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Photo by gdcgraphics released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.