On June 19, actor James Gandolfini suffered a massive heart attack and died while vacationing in Italy.
HBO, James Gandolfini's long time working partners, released this sad statement about his passing, "We're all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family. He was a special man, a great talent, but more importantly a gentle and loving person who treated everyone no matter their title or position with equal respect. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us."
However, James Gandolfini was more than just an "actor," he is a three time Emmy winner, an acclaimed producer, an number 28 on TV Guide's list of the "50 Sexiest Stars of All Time." James Gandolfini was best known for his work as the Mafioso Tony Soprano, on the HBO show The Sopranos, but he accomplished so much more than what some consider to be "the greatest television show of all time."
James Gandolfini was a man who never forgot his roots. From his time bouncing at bars to pay for his tuition at Rutgers University, to his willingness to do anything that would allow him to recognize his dream of acting, James Gandolfini tried to live the American Dream as best he could. James Gandolfini was raised by an Italian family in New Jersey: his mother was a high school lunch lady, and his father was a medal-winning World War II veteran ... and a custodian at the Paramus Catholic High School. For a man who would eventually make $1,000,000 an episode, these were very humble roots.
However, James Gandolfini clung to those roots and embraced them, he remembered where he had came from and strove to help those in need. James Gandolfini was a very active member of a number of charities, which included: Andre Agassi Foundation for Education, TJ Martell Foundation, and the Wounded Warrior Project. James Gandolfini actively tried to maintain ties to his roots by assembling the cast of The Sopranos in his hometown of Park Ridge, and donating all proceeds of the event to The Octoberwoman Foundation for Breast Cancer Research. James never forgot the sacrifice his father made in WWII and sought to make sure that all veterans received the care and respect that they deserve.
James Gandolfini did not ever have to work again after The Sopranos ended, yet he chose to in order to help the soldiers fighting in combat, and the soldiers combating mental illness. In 2007, James Gandolfini produced a documentary through HBO called Alive Day: Home from Iraq. A film which brought the plight of the wounded veterans of the Iraq war on camera for all to see. In the film, James Gandolfini personally interviewed 10 survivors of the Iraq War on the challenges they faced returning to the civilian life.
Gandolfini's personal attachment to helping veterans in need did not end with Alive Day: Home from Iraq; in 2010, James Gandolfini produced another documentary, in tandem with HBO, called Wartorn: 1861-2010 (which one a Prism Award for Best Documentary Picture). Like Alive Day: Home from Iraq, Wartorn: 1861-2010 also focused on veterans of combat. In Wartorn: 1861-2010 Gandolfini set about the task of highlighting the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) on soldiers, ranging as far back as the Civil War, to the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. James Gandolfini loved the troops, he supported them, and ensured that they were never forgotten about. Of course, none of these films would have been possible without The Sopranos.
In early 1999, James Gandolfini was called in to audition at HBO for the role of Tony Soprano in a television show about mobsters. James Gandolfini was no stranger to playing a gangster by the time that he auditioned for The Sopranos (he had played a member of the Mafia four times previously, most notably in True Romance) but his embodiment of Tony Soprano was unrivaled. His supreme acting ability created one of the greatest television characters of all times. His portrayal of aging mob boss, Tony Soprano, as an angry man who constantly questioned his identity and purpose, was masterful. He garnered three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Series during his time on The Sopranos, as well as winning the coveted Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, an impressive three times.
James Gandolfini died a wonderful, caring person. Leaving behind his family, his work, and his legacy as one of the greatest actors of all time, he will be missed.
Below is a compilation of his best work on The Sopranos (warning, language is NSFW)