In the endless cycling that has all but overtaken my profession, if you had anything to say about actor James Gandolfini’s death, you were supposed to write it, post it and move on within 24 hours of his passing on June 19.
As we all learn sooner or later, grief doesn’t work that way — especially when the death is sudden. One minute, you think everything’s normal; the next, you’re making arrangements and standing at the wake, kneading the skin of your clavicle as you whisper over and over, “I had no idea.”
In a moment of dark timing, I had just finished re-watching all six seasons of The Sopranos the night before my daughter called from Rhode Island to tell me that Gandolfini was gone. “Mom,” she said. “I knew you’d want to know.”
She was a teenager when the HBO series debuted in 1999. At the time, I had no interest in a violent show about mobsters. Then I found out her father was letting her watch the show whenever she stayed at his house. Her first mention of the Bada Bing! strip club triggered in me what she calls “Overdrive Connie.” If my 12-year-old daughter was watching a show about murder and strippers, then I was going to be able to quote it for discussion, scene by scene.
I was all in by the third episode. The teenage daughter of Gandolfini’s character, Tony Soprano, pushes and pulls until he finally admits in the car that, yes, some of his money has nothing to do with waste management. She flashes her I-knew-it smile, and he is every parent whose love for a child is his undoing.
I didn’t know Gandolfini, but like millions of fans, I knew him. I’m not Italian, and I never have lived in New Jersey, but I grew up in a working-class family with a father who never stopped resisting the changes he could not control in a world he once believed he could own.
An early scene, again between Tony and his daughter:
Tony: “You know, honey, that’s where I agree with you. I don’t think sex should be a punishable offense, either. But I do think talking about sex at the breakfast table is a punishable offense. So no more sex talk. OK?”
Meadow: “It’s the ’90s. Parents are supposed to discuss sex with their children.”
Tony: “Yeah, but that’s where you’re wrong. You see, out there it’s the 1990s, but in this house, it’s 1954.”
He points out the kitchen window: “1990s.”
He points to the floor: “1954. So now and forever, I don’t want to hear any more sex talk. OK?”
The only thing my dad would have changed was his favorite year, 1955, when he was the top high-school basketball scorer in the county.