They finally got Tony: James Gandolfini dead at 51

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano (Courtesy: HBO)
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano (Courtesy: HBO)
Reported by: James Eppler
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Updated: 6/20/2013 3:21 am

On Twitter: @JamesEppler

The smash-to-black ending for "The Sopranos" will have to be end for Tony Soprano, despite some fans hoping for a movie.

James Gandolfini died Wednesday on holiday in Italy. As you might suspect, it's being reported he suffered a heart attack.

Justifiably, much will be written about Gandolfini's work as Tony Soprano, the mob boss who became one of the most iconic characters in TV history. And that might be understating it. Tony Soprano redefined what a protagonist for a series could look like. He was a monster - consistently making decisions that hurt others to further himself. But the way he was written and the way Gandolfini gave the monster a soul was nothing short of revelatory.

It's fair to say without Tony Soprano there is no Walter White or Don Draper.

But Gandolfini was an outstanding actor outside "The Sopranos," even though that role would come to be something of a straight jacket for him as a performer. It seemed Gandolfini couldn't do a movie without some yahoo calling it "Tony Soprano does (fill in the blank)."

That's not fair at all.

He did, however, have a certain panache for playing villains and especially hitmen: He was crazy good in "True Romance" as ruthless killer who gets in a knock-down-drag-out fight with Patricia Arquette - still one of the most brutal fights I've seen on film; he played a gangster/stunt man with a daughter in "Get Shorty" and was quite funny;  I enjoyed his sensitive gay hit man in "The Mexican," opposite Julia Roberts; and one of his final on-screen roles in last year's "Killing Them Softly" was heartbreaking - a man at the end of his rope.

Last year he also starred in "Sopranos" creator David Chase's first movie, "Not Fade Away." He was a hard-line father in the 60s who didn't appreciate or understand his son's desire to get into the rock 'n' roll scene.

A friend of mine put it perfectly - "He was great in everything." We'll forgive "Surviving Christmas."

HBO has been re-airing episodes of "The Sopranos" on weeknights. It's worth revisiting - now more than ever.
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