James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano. — Photo AP
NEW YORK: Family, friends and fans united in grief Thursday in an emotional sendoff for James Gandolfini, star of the hit TV series “The Sopranos.”Gandolfini, a Golden Globe and three-time Emmy winner for his portrayal of emotionally vulnerable New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano, died June 19 after a heart attack in a hotel in Rome, where he was traveling with his 13-year-old son. He was 51.
Mourners converged on Manhattan's Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, an Episcopal church that is among the world's biggest, well before the mid-morning start of Gandolfini's funeral.
Some 1,500 people filled the pews, including Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, the state across the Hudson River from New York City where Gandolfini was born and “The Sopranos” was set.
Also present for the two-hour funeral were cast members of the HBO series, whose creator David Chase delivered a eulogy in the form of a letter to his fellow American of Italian heritage.
“We both loved family, work, people, food, alcohol, talking,” said Chase, who remembers his friend as “a sad boy, loving and confused... That's why I think you were such a great actor, because of that boy inside.”Longtime friend and fellow thespian Susan Aston affectionately remembered Gandolfini as “my teddy bear friend.”Others in attendance included actor Alec Baldwin, like Gandolfini a veteran of Broadway theater, and Edie Falco, who played Tony Soprano's wife Carmela in the series that ran from 1999 to 2007.
“The end of The Sopranos has a different meaning to me now,” said Baldwin on his Twitter feed after the funeral. “Rest in peace, Jimmy.”Gandolfini's second wife Deborah Lin spoke of a loving husband and attentive father to their nine-month-old daughter Liliana who was “always trying to help someone.”Emotions were no less strong outside the cathedral.
“We've been up since 4:30 this morning,” said Stephanie Solana, a fan who traveled to the Upper West Side from The Bronx with her two granddaughters to pay her respects.
“My heart is broken. It is really bad for the fans, but he will always live on for me. We'll never forget him.””I am probably the oldest fan here,” echoed a 93-year-old New Yorker, who preferred not to give her name. “He was one of the greatest actors of his generation.””The Sopranos,” she added, was nothing less than “a work of art ... better than Shakespeare.
It had a real depth.”On Wednesday, family and close friends gathered away from prying cameras for an invitation-only private viewing at a funeral home in Park Ridge, New Jersey, near where the actor grew up.
Gandolfini had a long film and stage career before lending his heavy stature and big grin to play a depressed mafioso in “The Sopranos.”When he died, the son of an Italian bricklayer was in Italy for the Taormina Film Fest in Sicily where he was to have received an award and participate in a roundtable discussion.
Besides “The Sopranos,” Gandolfini appeared in a raft of motion pictures, including director Kathryn Bigelow's 2012 Al-Qaeda thriller “Zero Dark Thirty”in which he portrayed the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.