Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Remembering James Gandolfini September 18, 1961 - June 19, 2013

The New Yorker magazine put it this way "Success came relatively late to James Gandolfini-if not by the standards of scholars, judges, and surgeons, then at least by the standards of actors."But when it arrived, it came in huge fashion.  Among his achievements were three Emmy Awards, three Screenwriters Awards, one Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series-all achieved after the age of 37.

James Gandolfini was born in Westwood, New Jersey.  His dad was a bricklayer and head custodian at Paramus Catholic High School and his mom was a high school lunch lady.  James was proud of his Italian heritage.  After graduating from Park Ridge High School in Park Ridge, New Jersey where he played basketball and acted in school plays, he continued his studies at Rutgers University having earned his undergraduate degree in communication.  While at Rutgers, he earned his spending money by being a bouncer at  a local bar.  He also worked as a bartender in Manhattan before pursuing his acting career.  While in New York City, he visited an acting class and enrolled in the Gately Poole Conservatory.

One of his first gigs was in the 1992 Broadway production of "On the Waterfront" He also got one of his first acting roles having played a mob enforcer in the film, "True Romance."He earned other roles that included "Terminal Velocity" "Get Shorty"  and "The Juror"

Gandolfini in The Sopranos
Gandolfini is most remembered for his role as lead character, "Tony Soprano" in one of the most successful television series in history, having played a mob boss that showed on HBO.  The series debuted in 1999 and ended in 2007.  The series made him #42 on Entertainment Weekly's list of Greatest Television
Icon's of All Time.  At the end of the Soprano's rein, he produced a documentary for HBO that focused on injured Iraq War veterans and the devotion they had for America.  He was also the executive producer of "Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq" that was nominated for an Emmy.  He soon found himself back on Broadway for a role in "God of Carnage" and performed the part of the Mayor of New York in "The Taking of Pelham 123.  He continued to produce other documentaries and HBO films.

During his success in the entertainment industry, Goldolfini never forgot his roots.  He continued to support his hometown.  He and his first wife bore a son, Michael and following his divorce, Gandolfini remarried and he and his second wife had a daughter.

In June, 2013, James decided to take a brief vacation to Rome, Italy.  He had planned to travel to Sicily
 to accept an award at the Taormina Film Fest.  On June 19, 2013 following a day of blistering heat while sightseeing with his son, Michael, James returned to his room.  His 13 year old son entered the room at about 10pm and found his dad unconscious on the bathroom floor.  The paramedics were called and James was rushed to the hospital and upon arrival, was pronounced dead at 11pm.  He was 51 years of age.  An autopsy was performed and the cause of death was ruled a heart attack.  When New Jersey got the news of James passing, flags were lowered to half staff on June 24.
James Gandolfini funeral

The remains of James Gandolfini were returned to the United States on June 23.  James was honored with the dimming of the lights on Broadway on June 26.

Gandolfini funeral program
James Gandolfini's funeral was held on June 27, 2013 at the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights, New York (program pictured).  Nearly 1500 friends and family members gathered to pay respect.  Among them was the entire crew of cast members from the Sopranos.  Also in attendance was Gov. Chris Christie and actor Alec Baldwin.  Among those who paid tribute to Gandolfini was the creator of the Sopranos, David Chase.  Chase recounted several memories of Gandolfini from the shooting of his landmark series, including one from early on in the first season when, between takes on a hot summer day, he saw Gandolfini sitting with pant legs rolled up, black shoes and black socks exposed, a damp handkerchief draped across his forehead.  It was, for Chase, an emblematic pose of working class Italian-American life, as if he were looking back through time at his own father or grandfather "It made me so proud of our heritage to see you do that.  I always felt that we were brothers."  "James was described as the most giving, generous person everyone here as ever known."

James Gandolfini was cremated following the services and returned to his family.  His place of rest is unknown.

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