One day after HBO execs said they would not telecast the pilot for a drama series James Gandolfini filmed shortly before his death, the former head of HBO was asked at TCA Summer TV Press Tour 2013 to say something about the actor, who died last month of a heart attack at age 51. Starz chief Chris Albrecht, who’d headed programming at HBO when The Sopranos was picked up, with Gandolfini cast in the lead role, responded: “Gandolfini was part of years and experience and a project that changed my life and changed everybody’s lives that were intimately involved with it… He was an extraordinarily talented man, and in my opinion nobody has ever been better in anything than James was in The Sopranos. And he was a very nice man.”
Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall provided the transcript to The Sopranos creator’s euology of James Gandolfini today at the actor’s NYC funeral attended by castmates Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Steve Buscemi, Julianna Margulies, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Joe Pantoliano, Dominic Chianese, Steve Schirripa, Aida Turturro, Vincent Curatola, Tony Sirico, Michael Imperioli, as well as the show’s executive producer Brad Grey. Others included Alec Baldwin, Chris Noth, Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Carell, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The 51-year-old Gandolfini died Wednesday of a heart attack in Italy. Chase was one of four speakers, including Gandolfini’s widow, who spoke at one of Manhattan’s largest churches Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine and gave his remarks in the form of a letter to the actor and quoted from Joan Osborne’s “(What If God Was) One Of Us?”:
Your family asked me to speak at your service, and I am so honored and touched. I’m also really scared, and I say that because you of all people will understand this. I’d like to run away and call in four days from now from the beauty parlor. I want to do a good job, because I love you, and because you always did a good job.
I think the deal is I’m supposed to speak about the actor/artist’s work part of your life. Others will have spoken beautifully and magnificently about the other beautiful and magnificent parts of you: father, brother, friend. I guess what I was told is I’m also supposed to speak for your castmates whom you loved, for your crew that you loved so much, for the people at HBO, and Journey. I hope I can speak for all of them today and for you.
I asked around, and experts told me to start with a joke and a funny anecdote. “Ha ha ha.” But as you yourself so often said, I’m not feelin’ it. I’m too sad and full of despair. I’m writing to you partly because I would like to have had your advice. Because I remember how you did speeches. I saw you do a lot of them at awards shows and stuff, and invariably you would scratch two or three thoughts on a sheet of paper and put it in your pocket, and then not really refer to it. And consequently, a lot of your speeches didn’t make sense. I think that could happen in here, except in your case, it didn’t matter that it didn’t make sense, because the feeling was real. The feeling was real. The feeling was real. I can’t say that enough.
I tried to write a traditional eulogy, but it came out like bad TV. So I’m writing you this letter, and now I’m reading that letter in front of you. But it is being done to and for an audience, so I’ll give the funny opening a try. I hope that it’s funny; it is to me and it is to you.
UPDATE, 6:10 AM:The Sopranos creator David Chase will be among those addressing mourners at today’s 90-minute funeral service for James Gandolfini . Other remembrances will be provideed by family members and family friends.
PREVIOUSLY, TUESDAY PM: HBO released this statement tonight: “The Gandolfini family would like to express their thanks for the outpouring of good wishes and support over the past week. The family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Wounded Warrior Project, an organization which James was very passionate about and supported in countless ways.”
PREVIOUSLY, TUESDAY AM: By request of the Gandolfini family, media will not be permitted inside Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine during Thursday’s funeral of James Gandolfini. HBO, along with Rubenstein Communications, are making arrangements for media to cover the service from outside the Cathedral. It has not yet been determined whether that means a pool camera will be allowed inside the service.
Meanwhile, Broadway theater marquees will go dark for one minute at 8 PM Wednesday in tribute to Gandolfini. The actor, who died June 19 in Rome at 51, earned a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Play for his role in God Of Carnage, which ran from March 2009-June 2010. The show won the Tony for Best Play. “James Gandolfini was a consummate actor who brought individuality to each role and inspired a true connection with the audience,” Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of The Broadway League, said in a statement. “Whether on screen or on a Broadway stage, he made every role believable and seemingly effortless.” Gandolfini also had supporting roles on the Main Stem in A Streetcar Named Desire (1992) and On The Waterfront (1995).
I find myself profoundly depressed over the death of James Gandolfini at age 51. He was at the center of one of my favorite shows, and one of my most cherished career memories. Back in 2000, I broke a Daily Variety story that Gandolfini had quietly renegotiated a contract for The Sopranos that would pay him $10 million for the next two seasons, including incentives for other projects he would produce and star in for HBO and Brad Grey Television. This was a good one because Gandolfini had just won an Emmy and the show, which debuted in 1999, was already assuming an iconic status that no pay cable series ever had before. HBO didn’t pay well back then, and Gandolfini’s feature quote was already at $5 million. HBO could not afford to lose him. So I’m feeling all good as I get home, and then the phone rings late in the evening at my home in Lindenhurst, Long Island.
“This is Jim Gandolfini, looking for Mike Fleming,” said the voice. When I told him he had the right number, Gandolfini said, “You just printed my salary, and I wanna know who told you.” There was a thrill, but also a jolt, because Gandolfini was so convincing as Tony Soprano. I stammered that journalists do not give up their sources, but that I had a solid one and had done my due diligence by calling HBO, the actor’s reps as well as exec producer Grey. We went back and forth for a while, and he finally said, “Look, I am just a Jersey guy trying to make a living here, and I’m not used to this.” I told him I was a Long Island guy trying to do the same. We laughed and finally he said, “Just tell me this. I need to know if my team told you this, because if they did, I can’t trust them.” Sources are sacrosanct to me, but this was an easy one because his reps had nothing to do with me finding out the information. They wouldn’t even take my call. I told him I could comfortably put my hand on a Bible and say they had nothing to do with how I got the story. He was satisfied. It was a great conversation that rivaled one I had with Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss before that scandal exploded. I couldn’t get her lawyer to call me back, got Heidi’s number and called her to give a heads up that I was writing that people thought no way she would make public her client list. She said that the first publication on her doorstep with $1 million could have her black book.
The Gandolfini conversation was a different kind of thrill. I came away really respecting the blue collar sensibility that made Gandolfini such a unique and yet identifiable presence on that show and in every movie he made. I could tell that he was a bit uncomfortable with fame he never thought he would achieve. Here was a guy who always looked ten years older than his actual age, had hard miles on him and a propensity to gain weight. He relished being a character actor in movies like Get Shorty and True Romance. That was how he saw himself.
BREAKING… Refresh for latest: Actor James Gandolfini died suddenly after a suspected heart attack while on holiday in Rome to attend the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily. He was 51. (UPDATE: The autopsy confirmed that Gandolfini indeed died of a heart attack.) Gandolfini will be forever known for his portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano on the seminal HBO series The Sopranos, which eventually won him 3 Emmy Awards and a $1,000,000-an-episode paycheck. Overweight, balding, rough around the edges with a thick New Jersey accent, Gandolfini was the opposite of a marquee leading man, destined to be a character actor. Yet he proved through his masterful acting that he could make Tony Soprano sexy and smart, towering and powerful. Chris Albrecht who greenlighted the crime family saga at HBO in 1999 and approved Gandolfini in the role, just emailed Deadline: “Absolutely stunned. I got the word from Lorraine Bracco and just got off with Brad Grey who had just heard from David Chase. We had all become a family. This is a tremendous loss.” (Grey was the executive producer and Chase the creator of The Sopranos.) And Gandolfini’s managers confirmed the actor’s death. “It is with immense sorrow that we report our client James Gandolfini passed away today while on holiday in Rome, Italy,’ said Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders. ”Our hearts are shattered and we will miss him deeply. He and his family were part of our family for many years and we are all grieving.”
David Chase, the show’s creator, issued this statement today: “He was a genius. Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times, ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence at the other end of the phone. For [wife] Deborah and [children] Michael and Lilliana, this is crushing. And it’s bad for the rest of the world. He wasn’t easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can’t explain and never will be able to explain.” Gandolfini reunited with Chase for The Sopranos creator’s feature film debut Not Fade Away, a 2012 drama in set in 1960s New Jersey in which the actor co-starred as the father of a teenage rock ‘n’ roll band lead singer. Fans anticipated a Sopranos movie from the pair, possibly a prequel about the Sopranos’ grandparents first coming to America from Italy and starring Gandolfini.
Brad Grey, The Sopranos‘ executive producer who’s now chief at Paramount, told Deadline: “Jimmy was one of the most talented, authentic and vulnerable actors of our time. He was unorthodox and truly special in so many ways. He had the sex appeal of Steve McQueen or Brando in his prime as well as the comedic genius of Jackie Gleason. I’m proud to have been his friend and grateful for the extraordinary years I was lucky enough to work with him. My heart and support goes out to his wonderful and loving family.” Added longtime Sopranos executive producer Terence Winter, creator/exec producer of Boardwalk Empire, “I’m truly crushed at the passing of my friend Jim Gandolfini. He was a gifted, fearless actor, respectful of everyone he met, and extraordinarily generous in every possible way.”
“I am shocked and devastated by Jim’s passing,” Gandolfini’s TV wife on The Sopranos, Edie Falco, said. “He was a man of tremendous depth and sensitivity, with a kindness and generosity beyond words. I consider myself very lucky to have spent 10 years as his close colleague. My heart goes out to his family. As those of us in his pretend one hold on to the memories of our intense and beautiful time together. The love between Tony and Carmela was one of the greatest I’ve ever known.”
Said Gandolfini’s therapist on The Sopranos, Lorraine Bracco: “We lost a giant today. I am utterly heartbroken.” His on-screen sister, Aida Turturro: “I’ve not only lost a great friend, but a true brother, on screen and off. James was the most generous actor to work with, but more so, a man with a heart of gold.”
Gandolfini’s fellow mobster on The Sopranos, Tony Sirico who played “Paulie”, had this to say: “Jim was one of my best friends in life, he was there whenever I needed him. Not only did he help me with my career, but also in life, god bless him. He and I were always helping the troops, we even went to combat zones to visit the Marines. He will be missed.”
HBO just told Deadline that it will put a card honoring Gandolfini after the episode currently airing on HBO Signature reading, ”HBO mourns the loss of James Gandolfini, a beloved member of the HBO family.” The pay channel also released this statement: ”We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family. He was special man, a great talent, but more importantly a gentle and loving person who treated everyone no matter their title or position with equal respect. He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us.”
Gandolfini was set to topline a new limited series for HBO, Criminal Justice, one of several projects he had in the works. Oscar winner Steve Zaillian is director/executive producer on the project and told Deadline: ”I worked with Jim before The Sopranos and after it, and throughout these many years he has always been the same man. A real man, like they don’t make anymore. Honest, humble, loyal, complicated, as grateful for his success as he was unaffected by it, as respectful as he was respected, as generous as he was gifted. He was big, but even bigger-hearted. I’m so saddened to lose my friend, and sadder still for his family.”
Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony Soprano was one of TV’s largest-looming TV anti-heroes — the schlub we loved, the cruel monster we hated, the anxiety-ridden husband and father we wanted to hug in midlife crisis when he bemoaned, “I’m afraid I’m going to lose my family. Like I lost the ducks.” In the most maddening series finale in recent history – an episode chock full of references to mortality (life, death, a William Butler Yeats reference to the apocalypse, a bathroom reference to a “Godfather” bloodbath) — his was the show’s last image, seen just as the words “Don’t stop” were being sung on the jukebox. It generated such extreme reaction that the series’ fans crashed HBO’s website for a time that night trying to register their outrage that it ended with a black screen, leaving them not knowing whether Tony Soprano had been whacked. (Related: THAAAT’S What We Were All Waiting For?) Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof referred to The Sopranos‘ infamous ending in his tribute to Gandolfini. “You created an icon. And you cut to black way too abruptly,” he wrote on Twitter. In large part to Gandolfini’s charisma (“Jimmy was the spiritual core of our Sopranos family,” Chris Albright, who is now CEO of Starz, noted today), that Season 5 of The Sopranos in 2004 remains the most watched series in HBO history with 14.4 million viewers on average.
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