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James Gandolfini’s Genius as Tony Soprano

James Gandolfini's Genius as Tony Soprano

I was a little stunned by the outpouring of affection for the late, great James Gandolfini, who died earlier this week in Italy of an apparent heart attack. He was 51.

But I should have expected it, really.

Thanks largely to the advent of YouTube, Wikipedia and Google, stars stay etched in our minds forever.

 But more crucially, America LOVES its iconic television stars. We admire and idolize them, no matter how much we really don’t want to identify with them. Ralph Kramden was a blowhard and a loser, yet I and millions of other highly intelligent people will watch repeats of The Honeymooners — and love them — till the sun burns out.

Could anyone say they wanted to be Archie Bunker, a bitter, little, socially-challenged bigot? But Carroll  O’Connor’s fantastic, spot-on portrayal of the pride of Queens may just be the most admired TV performance of all time.

Do you really wish you were George Costanza?

That is, unless Gandolfini’s characterization of Tony Soprano ranks a little higher. It was clearly the perfect storm — a character actor who had found his ideal role, a very well written show about a vivid topic and a network (HBO) that liked to take chances and knew how to churn out winning series.

The genius in Gandolfini’s acting. He made fans believe that that Tony Soprano was a real-life presence, that he existed for real and that, yes, he did those terrible things.

It’s a never-endng cycle on TV. Consider that Jon Hamm has also found his niche as Don Draper in Mad Men, a character who has all of Tony’s arrogance and macho. 

The world was a much better place because Tony Soprano inhabited it, if only for once a week, and purely in our imaginations.

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