James Gandolfini Was a Jersey Guy Who Helped Change Television

June 20, 2013 | Arts & Entertainment, People
"Sopranos" star James Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge, attended Rutgers and gained national attention as Tony Soprano. He died at age 51.

By Managing Editor Mike Schneider
NJ Today

Long before the world knew him as Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini was the boy next door in Park Ridge, playing sports, performing in school plays and, like most kids, embarrassed by his parents.

Then college called, or rather his mother forced him to go, and Gandolfini found himself at Rutgers.

“The first night they had a five-keg party there and I said what was I fighting about,” he recalled in an interview with James Lipton for Inside the Actors Studio.

He graduated from Rutgers, moved to New York, where he worked as a bouncer and club manager, took acting classes and started getting work in movies and plays. And then he got the role that changed everything.

The Sopranos revolutionized television, earning Gandolfini critical acclaim and creating a world view of New Jersey that some found amusing, some found disturbing, and almost all found fascinating.

The show ended when Gandolfini wanted to go. And then, he moved on to feature films and award-winning stage roles. A Jersey guy who wrestled with the fame he sought, but kept his sense of humor along the way.

When asked by James Lipton, “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?,” Gandolfini answered, “Take over for a while, I’ll be right back.”

Related: Columnist Remembers Gandolfini As a Guy Happy With His ‘Jerseyness’