James Gandolfini, Sopranos Star, Died of a Heart Attack

This is one of the last pieces I wrote about Gandolfini...
RIP, Tony, you were an actor's actor...

I hated the ending of The Sopranos; I mean, I really, really hated it. When the screen went black, I threw the remote, yelled "Shit!" and thought why does the Emergency Broadcast System pick now to run a system check. Then, I thought maybe the cable had gone out -- dying on me at the worst moment. When the credits started rolling, silently, I still didn't get it. I immediately set up my DVR to record the replay, thinking somehow, someway, my cable had dropped out on me for the end of the last scene.

Then realization sank in. My anger started rising. That sonofabitch Chase, I thought, he screwed all of us... for all these years we -- the legions of loyal fans of the show -- have all been waiting for one thing: to discover Tony's fate. Would he live or get whacked? Get prison, or escape? I actually thought at the end he was going to rat out everyone -- well, whoever was still alive. My thinking was, his name is Soprano. What does a Soprano do? He sings! I really thought that would be the ending. But it wasn't. We had no ending. Chase, like a thieving mafia hood, stole the last few frames of film from the projector. Or failed to put them in in the first place is more like it.

Reading about James Gandolfini's own reaction to the show's conclusion -- yes, the media storm is hitting us now, as Vanity Fair, in the March issue released today, is doing a major piece on the show, interviewing cast members, including Gandolfini who hates publicity as much as John Gotti liked to bathe in it.

Gandolfini's ability to straddle the extremes
of the good and evil in all of us helped endear
his portrayal of a murderous mob boss.
I have to smirk that Jimmy G.'s reaction, mirrored precisely my own -- first hatred, then wonder at the artistic brilliance of that ending.

"James Gandolfini, the actor who brought the Jersey mob boss to life, admits that he was as confused as everyone else by the finale... , according to a new, wide-ranging oral history of the HBO show in April’s Vanity Fair, which will hit newsstands today," reports the NYPOST.com.

“When I first saw the ending, I said, ‘What the f--k?’” Gandolfini said. “I mean, after all I went through, all this death, and then it’s over like that?”

"Though the ending of  [the] last episode — in which the screen suddenly goes black as the mob boss sits with his family in a diner — has been much maligned, Gandolfini eventually came to like it."

“After I had a day to sleep, I just sat there and said, ‘That’s perfect.’ ”
Vito, the gay mobster (left), died; Paulie
Walnuts didn't and was promoted,
taking control of Tony's richest crew.

It took me a week or two before I could achieve peace of mind. I was too angry at Chase. I remember telling my friend I would never watch another thing written, directed or produced by David Chase. I cursed him, said he was a coward, realized why it's the suits who always want to take the big decisions away from the creative types. You think ABC, CBS or NBC would let a show creator get away with that kind of ending? No way in hell!!!

So what caused the change in my opinion? Why do I now believe the ending is brilliant? Because Chase made the right choice. If he had "closed the book" on the show, killed Tony, put him in prison, whatever, he would have given us a gut-slamming hell of an ending, but by leaving it open, it's like the story still hasn't ended. It's still unfolding, like in another dimension, maybe the real TV Land, only we are free to wonder about Tony's fate, talk about it over coffee (or wine), offer theories, and in the way that last scene was filmed and edited, get a taste of the paranoia Tony -- and by extension many criminals -- has to live with, perhaps for the rest of his days.

I don't mean to get all metaphorical. I actually believe Mr. Chase, by packing the last handful of episodes with quite a bit of data, if you paid attention to those episodes, gave us enough to put a likely ending together on our own. We know Tony will be arrested and indicted for a major RICO trial and that he will try to use the help he gave the Feds about the possible terrorists with whom he had done some business -- so maybe he'll get five to 10 in prison; what does he do after he gets out? That's the question.

We all lazily mused that when that capo who secretly flipped on Tony -- the older guy, with the eyeglasses, who sought petty cash from the Feds at every opportunity -- keeled over from a heart attack, we thought that was it -- Tony was saved. (Just like we did after they -- Tony, Paulie and Silvio -- whacked Pussy, the character, and even Adrianna -- Silvio having been chosen to do the hit, masterfully put together. But since he used the "c" word while making his female victim, with whom he'd been friends for many years, wiggle around in the dirt like a snake before firing a shot into her head which we weren't allowed to see, we have to think he didn't mind all that much. She had crossed the line, would've put the whole crew away -- forever and ever and ever. Fuck dat, as Paulie Walnuts, my favorite character on the show, would've said.

Then, Tony finally took out his drug-addled idiotic inbred cousin or nephew Christopher Moltisanti, who should've been there in the dirt with his fiancee. He really could've been Tony's downfall; I thought that was why Imperioli's character was kept alive for so long -- to turn Tony in. But in a surprise twist -- one of the best episodes, one of, not the best -- Tony managed to capitalize on a car accident to murder Chris, hiding his dirty work behind the injuries of their vehicle doing a half-dozen or so rolls off the highway to avoid some teeny boppers who swerved in front of Chris and Tony, who were casually shoveling forth in Chris's SUV, listening to Pink Floyd (Tony was a classic rock man). They were, incidentally, returning from a  meeting with Phil Leotardo, who through a quirk of fate for Johnny Sac (prison, terminal cancer) ended up in the big seat of the Lupertazzi family, the largest of the fictional New York families on the show, and the one with the closest ties to the Soprano family. Although Tony was actually boss of the Demeo family; it was never the Soprano family. That meeting with Phil -- played by the superb Frank Vincent of Goodfellas and Casino fame -- sparked the fuse that caused a short war that was just long enough to kill Bobby Bacala, who was a joke for most of the series, but who had earned his stripes after standing up to Tony during a Monopoly game to defend his wife (and Tony's sister, Janice), giving Tony a pretty good beating in the process.

I thought Bacala was dead after that; maybe that's why Tony didn't seem to give a shit when Bobby actually did get whacked -- though he later argued for a cash compensation payment. Bobby had just stepped into a hobby store that sold electric trains, which were an interest of Bobby's. If he would've hit one more red light en route he would've answered his cell in time, and probably would've avoided the hitmen. They were two young wiseguys, in jogging suits and wearing baseball hats. They came in the store and fired away, knocking Bobby over on top of a running train display like a scene out of Godzilla, the way the train and tracks and make-believe model world around which the train ran all came crashing down under the weight of the bullet-riddled body.

And Silvio was shot, hovering in a coma between life and death. We will never know what happens to him, but, bottom line, he's as good as dead. Why, oh why, would one of the sharpest, most intelligent gangsters in Tony's crew keep his gun in a briefcase when he knows he and his borgata are at war with a much larger family?

Paulie Gaultieri, as I said my favorite character on the show, made it through without a scratch. He wasn't important enough to bother taking out. Some of the greatest moments on The Sopranos were built around Tony Sirico's rendition of this wily, aging mobster "with the upper body of a 25-year-old," as Tony told him in one episode. Paulie, despite being the oldest gangster, was the most petty and insecure -- meeting with Johnny Sac, a character at his Machiavellian best, to complain about how the boss ignores him, doesn't treat him with respect, all the while absently spilling valuable inside family information in the process from which Sac was able to earn some big bucks. And he actually told Johnny Sac about the joke Ralphie made about his, Sac's, rather heavy wife having a hundred-pound mole on her ass surgically removed. That almost caused a war in and of itself, but you have to hand it to Johnny Sac, he protected Paulie when he could have easily hung him out to dry -- and die -- in the face of Tony's chest-thumping demands to know who in his family was speaking "out of school."

Tony came close to butchering Paulie in the last season -- over his ratting out Ralphie for the joke. Tony is no dummy and had long since grown suspicious of Paulie and had deduced Paulie was the most likely culprit for this, and thus perhaps other more costlier, leaks. All Paulie had to do was admit he had told Johnny who told the joke -- and Tony really, really tried to manipulate him into opening up to him. If Paulie had told the truth, he would've ended up holding his hot intestines in his hands, watching his blood spill onto his shoes before Tony tied something heavy to him and heaved him overboard.

The Sopranos, for me, was more than a television show. It was an experience, a communal event. Sunday night, 9pm, HBO on the tube, you sat down and knew millions of other Americans were doing the same.

And to think, I basically ignored the show until the third season when, quite by accident, I finally sat down one Sunday night to watch a full episode -- and it happened to be one of the best episodes ever produced in the series, if not on television in general...

More to come...

Related posts...
Reaction - Sopranos Ending - New York Times: "After he completed the final episode of “The Sopranos,” David Chase told publicity executives at HBO that he was leaving for France and would not take any calls asking him to comment about the ending of his classic television series."

Solving the Sopranos - NYTimes.com: "In one of the articles covering online betting on the final episode of “The Sopranos,” the network offered some advice that may or may not have been based on insider information. David Chase, the show’s director, “defies all theories of probability,” said an HBO spokesman.

"He was right, of course. Although Tony Soprano technically survived, there was no way to bet that the show would end in profoundly ambiguous fashion.

"Indeed, the final scene preyed on that assassination expectation as several possibly threatening individuals lurked around him at a family restaurant before the screen abruptly flipped – not faded – to black. (A cable outage was the obvious culprit for many fans who sprinted to alternate TV sets before realizing that they’d been had.)"

Then we have the trend of bit players from the Sopranos believing they never have to work again because, hey, they were on the Sopranos. Some ended up getting mobbed up -- for real, and quite a few were arrested for assorted mayhem... here's one for now:

"Sopranos" star Vincent Pastore gets into a dust-up with mob-related rapper Tony Testa on video shoot - NYPOST.com: "Sopranos" star Vincent Pastore and mob-related rapper Tony Testa got into a wild, name-calling dust-up during a video shoot for Testa's new record.

"A nephew of jailed mob boss Joseph Carmine Testa told us he had a fight with Pastore after the actor -- who played Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero on the HBO series -- demanded a limo and top billing on the credits before he would leave the house.

"According to Testa, Pastore then refused to show up for Wednesday's shoot for "Paper Chaser" at Bamonte's restaurant in Williamsburg -- leaving fellow "Sopranos" actor Joe Gannascoli, who played closet gay Vito Spatafore Sr., and Chuck Zito, who starred in HBO's "Oz," to carry on with the shoot before they, too, began bickering.


  1. Ed, no one can write an article as well as you can. I'm sobbing like a bambina n through this you cracked a smile for me... I didn't know James Gandolfini but as all his viewers, felt as though I did. Maybe a Sopranos Movie will come out of this tragedy in tribute to this One of a Calibre Actor...
    Thank You Ed Scarpo Susan Testa


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