James Gandolfini in "Not Fade Away"
Photo by Barry Wetcher - Courtesy of Paramount Vantage James Gandolfini in "Not Fade Away"

James Gandolfini’s name will always be synonymous with Tony Soprano, the character he brought to life so unforgettably on David Chase’s ground-breaking, compulsively watchable HBO series The Sopranos. Part mobster, part family man, harassed by his witch of a mother but vulnerable enough to talk to a psychiatrist, Tony Soprano was no ordinary gangster…and Gandolfini made each facet of that character believable. It’s difficult to accept the news that he has died at the age of 51.

After attaining “overnight” stardom on cable television, his first choices of movie roles were not propitious, and I wondered—along with many other fans—whether he could escape the straitjacketing of being typecast as a New Jersey mobster. But in recent years he found other colors to play in a variety of interesting roles: the straight-faced military man in Armando Iannucci’s political satire In the Loop, a grieving father who reaches out to a young woman in need of help in Welcome to the Rileys, a hit man who goes on a bender in Killing Them Softly, the C.I.A. director in Zero Dark Thirty, and a forlorn father trying to reach out to his teenage son in David Chase’s Not Fade Away, to name a few.

I was also lucky enough to see him on Broadway in God of Carnage, in which he commanded the stage alongside Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels, and Marcia Gay Harden. Watching him try to harness his volcanic temper and sense of resentment against some “entitled” fellow parents was riveting.

The news of his death is still shocking, but his presence will continue to resonate for many years to come.