Mourners Gather to Pay Tribute to Gandolfini
By MARC SANTORA and JAMES BARRON
June 27, 2013
Some were friends, and some were family. Some worked with the man, and others simply admired him. But many who gathered to mourn the actor James Gandolfini at a historic cathedral in Manhattan on Thursday were strangers.
They had never met the man, but still felt connected to him. Such was the power of Tony Soprano, the character Mr. Gandolfini vividly brought to life for six seasons on HBO.
And such is the intimacy of television, where characters show up in a viewer’s living room week after week and a fictional mob boss can start to seem awfully real.
“I am not sure how to put it in words,” said Gwen Gibbs, 45, who drove 12 hours overnight from Kentucky to attend the funeral at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights.
“He made the character of Tony Soprano feel like a real person, like someone you knew,” she said. “When I heard he had died, I hoped it was a hoax.”
Ms. Gibbs was waiting along with dozens of other strangers, hours before the service started. They formed one line waiting to get inside.
A separate line was set up for those who had a more personal relationship with Mr. Gandolfini.
On a muggy, overcast morning, his co-stars from television arrived and were joined by a cast of some of Hollywood’s biggest names.
Jamie Lynn-Sigler, who played Tony’s daughter Meadow on “The Sopranos,” broke down in tears outside the cathedral. Almost the entire cast was on hand, including Edie Falco, Joe Pantoliano, Dominic Chianese, Steve Schirripa, Aida Turturro, Vincent Curatola and Michael Imperioli.
The lights on Broadway had been dimmed on Wednesday evening in tribute to Mr. Gandolfini.
Gov. Chris Christie also attended the funeral to pay tribute to a fellow New Jerseyan.
Mr. Gandolfini was born in Westwood, N.J., on Sept. 18, 1961, and he grew up in Park Ridge, in Bergen County, N.J.
His mother, Santa, was a high school lunch lady and his father, an Italian immigrant, held a number of jobs, including janitor, bricklayer and mason.
Mr. Gandolfini, who did not become interested in acting until he was 25, was a relatively unknown character actor when David Chase cast him in the role of Tony Soprano.
It would transform both men’s lives, and the show itself would be credited with changing what people thought of as possible on a dramatic television series.
Since “The Sopranos” ended, Mr. Gandolfini went on to star in the Broadway drama “God of Carnage,” for which he was nominated for a Tony Award in 2009; and played the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow’s dramatization of the hunt for Osama bin Laden; and a hit man in the 2012 crime thriller “Killing Them Softly.”
He died after having a heart attack while on vacation in Rome last week. He was 51.
The cathedral, one of the largest sanctuaries in the city, was set up so that 2,000 people could be seated for Mr. Gandolfini’s service, said Jody Fisher, a spokesman for the church.
The family requested that the service not be televised, so the only cameras permitted inside were for private use, he said.
The 90-minute funeral service, which included a musical selection of both traditional hymns and contemporary songs, was led by the Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski.
Inside the cathedral, people fanned themselves with the printed programs for the service — programs that carried a black-and-white photograph of Mr. Gandolfini on the cover. The prayers and creeds that the congregation recited during the service were printed inside, as were the hymns that were sung: “O God Our Help in Ages Past” toward the beginning of the service, and “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” at the end. Before communion, the tenor Jesse Blumberg sang “Bring Him Home” from “Les Misérables.”
Four people spoke, including his wife, Deborah Lin, and Mr. Chase.
Ms. Lin spoke first, recalling her husband’s private life.
“One of the things I loved most about you is watching you be the father you were to Michael and Lily,” she said. “Thank you for the memories of the beautiful life we shared together.”
Mr. Chase, who spoke last and framed his remarks as a letter written to Mr. Gandolfini, had to fight back tears several times.
“I think your talent is you can take in the immensity of humankind and the universe and shine it back out to the rest of us like a huge great light,” he said. “And I believe that only a pure soul, like a child, can do that really well.”
Father Kowalski said the violence on “The Sopranos” had forced him to think about people and their relationships, as well as “the possibility of redemption.”
“I don’t know how he did it,” he said. “I felt he did it for me, and to see the world grieving now, I do not feel alone.”
Melissa Sann, 42, who lives on the Upper East Side but grew up in New Jersey, said that she felt she needed to be present and say a final goodbye to a man she had never met.
“The last couple of days have been overwhelming,” she said. “Obviously I didn’t know him personally, but I felt like I did and that is the true testament to his ability to act.”
“For all the things that were not nice about Tony Soprano, you still liked him,” Ms. Sann added. “He had that teddy bear thing. He did not have the body of Matthew McConaughey or the face of Channing Tatum. But he was just beautiful and charismatic.”