Tony Soprano once told his therapist, “I’ve been thinking it’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that, I know. But lately I’ve been getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.”
The best is now over as James Gandolfini, the actor who played Mr. Soprano, passed away from a reported heart attack.
I remember watching the show in my good friend’s attic when we were barely 18 years old, still in our own process of finding out how the world works. We saw in Tony what we wanted to see in ourselves: understanding concepts and using them to our advantage. We knew he had qualities related to ruthlessness and adultery, but that is why people loved him; he was the whole package and made your eyes glue to the screen.
He was the guy who made it reasonable for TV stalwarts like Don Draper and Walter White to become massively popular while also experiencing numerous bouts of self loathing. He made it cool to be a Jersey guy who smoked cigars in his SUV and hum “Layla” to himself while knowing that every move of his had consequences. Soprano could walk in his robe outside, grab the newspaper, and look like the toughest son of a bitch you would ever come across.
But Tony Soprano was just a character in a widely-acclaimed series. The man who played the character was, by all accounts, the antithesis of the malicious mobster. Since his death yesterday, I’ve read various accounts of Average Joe’s meeting Gandolfini in strange ways — fixing a flat tire, working as an extra on the show, youth soccer games — and it makes you realize that some people are so good at acting that they make people assume that the character they play is the same person they are in reality, off set.
I don’t normally get emotional or deeply sympathetic over the deaths of celebrities. I never meet them or know how they act in reality, with the cameras off, but some people make you sad even if you don’t know why. Some people you watch on television or in movies or listen to on albums — they shape your life in ways you never imagined. Hell, they may have changed your life in ways you never realized either. Why that is I’ll never know. But it matters, somehow.
Life’s fragility is only countered by its beauty. We try to do as much as we can while we are on this planet. It’s all we can do because we never know what is around the corner or down the road. I’m sad Gandolfini is gone but I know his legacy will live on forever, both as an actor and as a great man. That’s the kind of legacy people want to leave behind when they pass, and people are always curious how others will react at their funerals.
I will miss James Gandolfini. He helped shape my life and the friendships I have cultivated over the years. And that final scene of “The Sopranos” will haunt me until the end of time.