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Cutting To Black: Some Thoughts On James Gandolfini's Passing

CORRECT Gandolfini 1 There€™s a newsstand in South Station where I grab a water every morning on my way over to work, and, like all newsstands of its sort, it sells a variety of newspapers and tabloids for those that need something to digest over the course of their workday. This morning, two papers caught my eye, each with a full front page picture announcing the death of James Gandolfini. In the captions, both papers referred to him simply as €œSoprano.€ This struck me as being at once a reflection of the power of the late star's biggest role, but also a misguided toast to his legacy. The Sopranos was certainly one of, if not the best television dramas of all time. Without it, we probably wouldn€™t have Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Homeland, and on and on and so forth. More specifically, we wouldn€™t have them without Gandolfini€™s complete, all encompassing performance as the anxiety plagued gangster. In The Sopranos Gandolfini was everything: monstrous, magnetic, hilarious, cruel, vulnerable, terrifying. Most of all, he was human. We hated that we loved him, rooted for him in spite of his evil. Wanted him to repent, but maybe not that much. Used him as an outlet for our darker sides. His performance created a role so real that his tragic, sudden death has seemed, in many ways, to be more about the character than the man himself. That€™s a shame, because while he was never as well recognized as some of his peers, Gandolfini brought the same completeness to almost every role he took. Watching him, whether as a tough guy in True Romance, obedient soldier in Crimson Tide, reluctant softie in Killing Them Softly, or wisecracking general in In The Loop, you got the sense that you were watching a real person rather than a performance. He always did his job, and always did it well. I only had the pleasure of meeting Gandolfini once, back in the fall of 2008. It was at a party celebrating the release of a wrongfully imprisoned man, a case that Gandolfini had taken a personal interest in and helped drum up support for. He did this on his own time because he cared about it. No one asked him to care, no one asked him to help. He did it because he knew it was right, because he was a good man. As he mingled among the other partygoers, all predictably starstruck by his presence (he was truly a bear of a man), he made good to talk to each one, to toy around with my cousins and I and tell jokes, make funny faces, pose for pictures with behind family and friends. There was a certain, beautiful irony in seeing the man most recognized as a cold blooded gangster do impersonations of the Budweiser €œwazzzzzuppp€ commercials for the younger guests, myself included. I can€™t say that after meeting the man for only 20 minutes that I truly knew him. Certainly not as well as other members of my family, and most certainly not as well as those who worked and lived with him day after day. But from that small sample I knew that he was someone that cared, someone that had helped free and innocent man from a life sentence, that he was someone who had a firm belief in right and wrong. CORRECT gandolfini 2 When The Sopranos cut to black for its final scene, it gave all of us a reason to look back, to hunt for clues and meaning and things we€™d missed on the first go round. With Gandolfini€™s death, I can only hope it brings about a similar reflection. Not just to look back on his most iconic role (though that€™s certainly worth the while), but to look at the smaller roles, the subtleties, the little things he did that quietly made him one of the greatest actors of his generation. And to look back at him as a person, a man, an individual apart from his roles. A man who cared, who helped, who will be missed.
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David Braga lives in Boston, MA, where he watches movies, football, and enjoys a healthy amount of beer. It's a tough life, but someone has to live it.