What would the world be like without Tony Soprano? Unfortunately we have found out with the passing of James Gandolfini yesterday at the too soon age of 51. It can not be understated that Gandolfini was one of the most (if not the most) influential actors ever in television history. Its a fact.
The Sopranos changed the way we watch television. A lot of television was seen as background noise for the casual viewer before David Chase’s series forced the viewer to watch intently to follow his broad storytelling. Would the show have been as good without Gandolfini as Tony Soprano? How could it? His portrayal of the depressed mob boss from North Jersey gave us the original character we always rooted for despite all of his indiscretions. Without the success of Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano who knows if we would have gotten Dexter Morgan, Walter White, Don Draper or Nucky Thompson (even though he was a real guy).
Gandolfini made Tony Soprano who was in most ways a monster, a relatable human being. I can’t help but smile whenever Tony starts singing a random song, because its just so real. The depth of the character is enhanced so much by Gandolfini’s work, who also made us feel bad for an asshole with everything he could want. Tony Soprano at his core was just another guy from Jersey, trying to figure out his problems and live his life, just like Gandolfini himself. The difference being Gandolfini’s humble, calm and sometimes even shy nature compared to Tony’s violent and larger than life persona. He never chased fame, he was a man who just loved his craft.
I will never forget one time I saw Gandolfini in person, a section away from me at a Rutgers Football Game (his alma mater). Everyone noticed him as soon as he walked in, popcorn and soda in hand, his son trailing behind him. He was a hero to all of us yet could not have acted more normal, smiling and waving at all the “Jimmy!” calls before sitting in his seat. He could have probably sat in nicer seats, but that wasn’t who he was.
James Gandolfini made us care about Tony Soprano like we never cared about a television character before. We became a part of his family. Losing him is like losing a part of our family, and I truly cannot recall ever being this saddened by the death of someone I never knew, which speaks once again to his incredible relatability. I feel like I knew him personally because of all that we went through over the course of The Sopranos, his performance is that powerful and helped ushered in an entirely new era of cinema quality television. Unfortunately we will have to get used to a world without James Gandolfini…somehow, but will always remember him for his influential portrayal of one of the greatest characters of all time.