In Memory Of The Sad Clown


Wrote this immediately after the passing of the great James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) a while back. At the time, I couldn’t bring myself to watch “The Sopranos” but I’ve come to realize that it wasn’t the best way to honor his memory.



GORDONVILLE — We all need our dreams, and one of mine was that “The Sopranos” would return one day, either to the big or small screen.

The dream ended this past week when the man who made Tony Soprano a household name, James Gandolfini, died at age 51 of a massive heart attack while vacationing with his son in Italy.

For all the times I have been touched, and touched deeply by his acting, I remain in stunned silence.

Not much in the way of tears, or overt sadness.

Not yet.

That might come when I watch the show again, which I, myself, have been unable to do.

Not yet.

Right now, I probably won’t make it through the opening credits.

Right now, I’m just trying to make it through one of the most difficult columns I’ve ever had to write.

It was much the same way when I lost close family members – my father (2008), father-in-law (2010) and stepfather (2011) — during these intervening years.

It took a while for the reality to set in.

And mock me if you will, I almost feel like I lost a member of my family in Gandolfini.

“The Sopranos” was in perpetual syndication in Gordonville.

It never got old.


Perhaps, I craved that sameness amid the many changes in my life – good and bad, sad and glad, personal and professional — since it first aired in 1999.

Perhaps, it just appealed to me as a fan of the mob genre. After all, the great movie of my generation is “The Godfather.”

Perhaps, it’s a mixture of all the above, along with the fact that I saw a lot of myself in Tony (sans actually whacking people). I have been known to have a short fuse, but I also have a big heart – exemplified by a love of four-legged creatures displayed by Tony — and expend a lot of needless energy worrying what other people think.

In addition to sharing paranoia bordering on unhealthy, we both held disdain for those who drift through life – and in between the raindrops without getting wet — as the “happy wanderer.”

When he described himself as “the sad clown,” I completely caught his drift.

The most amazing times were the first viewings of episodes, on Sunday nights, when I would be thinking exactly what Tony was thinking before he made his gestures of war and peace, and understood the indecision that followed his decisiveness.

Part of the immediate appeal of “The Sopranos” – when I first caught it during one of those free enticement weekends of HBO — was that the star, while captivating, was not a dashing leading man in the traditional sense.

It gave it brevity and levity.

And it shot to No.1 with a bullet in my heart, my soul and mind.

I soon took to wearing jogging suits and using the verbiage. It gave me a shield for my sensitivity.

In 2007, the same year my daughter was born, “The Sopranos” aired its final episode, with the screen suddenly fading to black while Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” was halted at “don’t stop.” I defended it publicly, but secretly found it a bitter pill to swallow.

Still, I had the body of work — like that of The Beatles, Shakespeare or “The Brady Bunch” – to rely on.

And, like fans of the Fab Four – up until the death of John Lennon — I held out hope for more.

My little lullaby: The final show’s ending could mean anything.

Maybe Tony didn’t die in that diner, even though the fade-to-black hint was foretold in a prior episode. Maybe Silvio (Van Zandt) will come out of his coma. Maybe Chase, the show’s visionary, won’t take himself so seriously and will create a new world around Tony and Carmela (brilliantly played by Edie Falco) by using top-shelf Italian-American actors that would be at his disposal for a feature film or HBO mini-series.

And maybe Gandolfini, who turned Tony into the character that stirred “da gravy,” would wake up one day and have an epiphany. Maybe he would realize that he was meant to play Tony, not second bananas in big-budget movies, and call Chase and get on the same page for a new chapter.

While it seemed less and less likely, “The Sopranos” never let me down.

The show became my beacon. Nothing before it, or since, will ever take its place.

Part of its brilliance is that it never gets old.

It has kept me grounded, and kept me thinking.

I don’t drink, gamble or smoke. I don’t even golf or play cards with the guys.

My outlet, when the house is dark and no one else is awake, is to watch “The Sopranos.”

The more I allegedly evolve – or at least change – the more I glean from watching it on a continual loop.

My holy trinity – if Jewish guys are allowed such things – consisted of Sofia, Springsteen and “The Sopranos.”

And Gandolfini is the main reason it achieves such lofty status.

A night or two before I learned of Gandolfini’s passing, I watched an episode on HBO Signature. It was the one where the inner-circle holds a drug intervention for Christopher Moltisanti (played to perfection by the unheralded Michael Imperioli).

Christopher lashes out at each person in the room, including Tony. He tells him that he is going to die of a heart attack “before 50” if he keeps eating the way he does.

Ironically, Gandolfini – in a rare interview – was quoted as saying it would be “kind of lame” if the show ended with Tony dying of a heart attack.

Instead, that’s how the dream ended.

As much as Hollywood thrives on remakes, the curtain has now fallen on “The Sopranos.” The greatest compliment to Gandolfini is that if they made a remake 50 years from now, it wouldn’t work. No one can replicate his masterful portrayal.

In that sense, he was a true original.

He takes that to his early grave.

I am not one of Gandolfini’s loved ones — a group that includes both family and his many professional associates — and I can’t pretend to imagine how they feel.

But I count myself among his legion of enduring admirers.

Together, in ways we can’t yet fully express – or shouldn’t have to explain to those who “don’t get it” – we mourn his loss.

And I mourn my lost dream.

1 thought on “In Memory Of The Sad Clown

  1. Pingback: RAINDROP TEARS | hastywords

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