UPDATED 7:09 P.M.: James Gandolfini was mourned Thursday in a star-studded funeral at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, eulogized by loved ones and colleagues as a generous, loving “teddy bear” who deftly channeled his own childlike vulnerability into his most famous role of a brutal mafia capo.
He was hailed for selflessly extending himself on behalf of his family, loved ones, veterans and an adoring public.
Steve Buscemi, Tony Sirico, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Jerry Adler, John Turturro, Alec Baldwin and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie were among hundreds attending the service in the gothic colossus that would have been a nightmare for Gandolfini’s most famous character, Tony Soprano, because police were everywhere.
At the service led by Saint John the Divine’s the Very Rev. Dr. James A.
Kowalski, eulogists paid supreme tribute to the familiar, friendly actor from New Jersey, pointing out that Gandolfini, who died last week in Rome at age 51, bore no resemblance to the ruthless mob don Tony Soprano, the centerpiece of the hit HBO show “The Sopranos” that ran for eight years.
Gandolfini was “honest, kind and loving,” serving food to the homeless during Mardi Gras after Katrina, helping the victims of Sandy, and sharing sushi with Teamsters, said his widow, Deborah Lin Gandolfini, in a quavering voice. Though the “beautifully complex” Gandolfini was “extremely private,” people mattered to him, and the man “cared about others more than himself,” she said.
After paying homage to the actor’s teenage son, Michael, who found his father unconscious, and lauding Gandolfini’s long, tight hugs, family friend Thomas Richardson invited all the mourners to hug the congregants around them in his memory.
The burly, expressive actor was “the most giving, generous person anyone has ever known,” Richardson said.
Dialogue coach and actor Susan Aston prompted laughter in the flower-filled cathedral when she thanked Gandolfini for the “liberating words of wisdom” he shared with her back in the 1980s when they were performing in a small Greenwich Village venue. She recalled him admonishing her, “Aston! What’s the worst that can happen? We suck?”
Gandolfini understood that to “create well, one has to be willing to make a mess of things,” and be vulnerable, she explained. His acting made her feel “he knew our struggles,” and “reached across the screen to touch us in our tender places,” Aston said. He strove for excellence in his work and struggled equally “to accept himself on the occasions he fell short of his intentions,” Aston declared.
“Sopranos” creator David Chase shared a lengthy scene he imagined for Gandolfini playing Tony Soprano that would end with a gun-less, Capo without his underlings, hopping on a bus in the Meadowlands, while the Joan Osborne song, “One of Us,” played.
Chase drew chuckles from the hundreds of mourners when he recalled shooting a scene one hot, humid New Jersey summer, when he spied Gandolfini resting in a beach chair while wearing black socks, black shoes and a wet handkerchief on his head.
He told Gandolfini it wasn’t a “cool look” but “I was filled with love,” recounted Chase, as the image made him recall his own father and grandfather, who were stonemasons and were apt to dress in similarly fashion-backward, heat-beating garb. “I don’t know what it is about Italians and cement … but it made me so proud of our heritage to see you do that,” Chase said.
Of the Tony Soprano character, Chase asked rhetorically: “Why did we love him so much when he was such a p---k?” It was because Gandolfini managed to suffuse the role with a boyish, touching vulnerability that did no less than “illuminate the human soul,” Chase said.