"Shocking" would not be too strong a word in describing the reaction to the news last night of the death of actor James Gandolfini at the way-too-young age of 51.
It is impossible to name the "best show in television history", but I don't think that anyone would argue that HBO's "The Sopranos" would not be in the discussion for best dramatic show ever, and James Gandolfini, playing Mob Boss and New Jersey family man Tony Soprano was the heart and soul of the series' 86 episodes, which ran from 1999 to 2007. The Associated Press obituary that ran in this morning's Post-Gazette quoted "Sopranos" creator David Chase as saying that "a great deal of that genius (Gandolfini's) resided in those sad eyes." How appropriate, because in watching "The Sopranos" I always said that Gandolfini-as-Tony could say more with his eyes than other actors could with several pages of dialog.
Actors who play such iconic characters as Tony Soprano run the risk of forever being known for one part and being typed as one particular kind of character. Gandolfini seemed to combat that trap by returning to the Broadway stage, to much acclaim, and by taking smaller, character roles in movies. The last time I saw him was in the role of CIA Director Leon Panetta in last year's terrific "Zero Dark Thirty". Once you realized who the actor was, you forgot Tony Soprano, because that was Leon Panetta up there on the screen. How sad that we will not see him again.
I can think of no greater way to pay homage than what I will do this afternoon: Go to my DVD collection and randomly select any disk from any season of "The Sopranos" and watch a few episodes. You might want to do that yourself, as well.
RIP James Gandolfini.
By the way, I would not remiss if I did not share with you a message I received late last night from Friend and Loyal Reader Mark Matera. Knowing that I would no doubt be doing an Absent Friend write-up on Gandolfini, he suggested I tie it in with another notable death from yesterday, that of singer Slim Whitman. He suggested that the headline read "Death Takes a Pair of Sopranos".
Too good not to share.