Family man Gandolfini laid to rest
Stars come out to pay respects to 'Sopranos' star
Purring SUVs with tinted windows (and New Jersey plates) deliver mourners in sunglasses and boxy dark suits to the steps of St John the Divine Cathedral in Morningside Heights, Manhattan.
Girlfriends or wives are in narrow black dresses and teetering heels – all reasons already to think you are at a mob funeral.
Family man Gandolfini laid to restSome just look the part. "Look, there's Vito," a lady calls out as one tightly tailored gentleman labours upwards to the door. She has spotted Vito Spatafore – or rather the actor who played him in 'The Sopranos', Joseph Gannascoli.
This is an Italian funeral and a New Jersey funeral, but it's not a mafia one. This is the final farewell to the actor James Gandolfini, not a freaky fan convention for one of the biggest television series there ever was. But as a soloist sings 'Ave Maria' and family members approach to put their lips to the coffin, it is hard to keep TV fantasy and grieving reality apart. Look, there's Paulie. And there's Tony's sister.
Gandolfini, who died from a heart attack last week in Rome aged just 51, was familiar with the phenomenon. He and Tony Soprano, the gruff yet vulnerable mob boss he played, were intertwined. Of course, he had tried to break the link playing other roles – in 'God of Carnage' on Broadway or as a former CIA director in 'Zero Dark Thirty' – but he didn't quite succeed.
It is a measure of the respect and love he earned that his funeral is in the largest cathedral in New York. It has drawn hundreds, and not just the famous. Renata Latimer (67) had no direct connection but came because 'The Sopranos' had got her through hip surgery.
New Jersey accents were easy to hear among the public waiting outside the cathedral and waiting for a chance to get in. A few spoke in Italian.
"I'm a fan," said Saul Stein (60). "I came to pay my respects today because he's a character I identify with, a family man."
A few casual meetings with Gandolfini was enough to bring Robin Eckstein to the funeral.
"I had friends that worked with him," she said. "I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times and he was just lovely. So warm . . . As soon as he knew you were a friend of a friend, you were his friend too."
Broadway theatres paid tribute by dimming their lights briefly last night. Gandolfini was nominated for a Tony Award in 2009 as an actor in 'God of Carnage'.
And the famous have come too. Chris Christie looks like a former cast member but is in fact the Governor of New Jersey. John Turturro is here, and so are Steve Buscemi and Alec Baldwin. And, yes, near the front is Lorraine Bracco. She was joined by fellow 'Sopranos' stars Edie Falco, Joe Pantoliano, Dominic Chianese, Steve Schirripa, Aida Turturro, Vincent Curatola and Michael Imperioli.
Of four eulogies, one comes from David Chase, the creator of 'The Sopranos'. He can't start with a joke as perhaps he should, he says. But, beginning simply with "Dear Jimmy", he offers a theory about what made him so special. "I saw in you a sad boy, amazed and confused. You were a great actor because of the boy who was inside."
His acting coach for his whole career, Susan Aston, recalled how he turned down a film offer for this summer. "I didn't want to lose any of that time with Michael and Lilli," he told her. He meant to be on the Jersey Shore right now with his two children, and his wife, Deborah Lin, before it was too late. (© Independent News Service)