Friends, family members, and coworkers gathered today at Manhattan's Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine to pay their final respects to actor James Gandolfini, who passed away last week at the age of 51.
Everywhere one looked in the front of The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, one could see echoes of the life of Tony Soprano — and, therefore, the life of the complicated but beloved man who played him. There was his wife Carmela — or, rather, Edie Falco. There were all the memorable characters from the series, and the grieving actors who had played them: Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Lorraine Bracco, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Tony Sirico among them. There were actors whose characters had died onscreen at the hands of Tony, like Joe Pantoliano and Steve Buscemi. There was the man who almost was Tony Soprano, actor Michael Rispoli, who was the runner-up to Gandolfini for the landmark role. There were former guest stars like Julianna Margulies, movie co-stars like Steve Carell, Alec Baldwin, Broadway co-stars Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden, members of the news media (including Brian Williams and Dick Cavett).
Those who knew him best — his wife Deborah, his lifelong friends Thomas Richardson and Susan Aston — spoke of a generous, yet "extremely private" man who had "inner demons" to spare, but also plenty of time for complete strangers.
After Gandolfini the "father, brother, friend" came Gandolfini "the actor, the artist."
Representing all of Gandolfini's former cast mates was The Sopranos creator David Chase, who delivered an incredibly moving eulogy in the form of an open letter to his late colleague.
"I tried to write a traditional eulogy, but it came out like bad TV," Chase said at the start. "So I’m writing you this letter and I’m hoping it’s better."
I was asked to talk about the work part, and so I’ll talk about the show we used to do and how we used to do it. You know, everybody knows that we always ended an episode with a song. That was kind of like me and the writers letting the real geniuses do the heavy lifting: Bruce, and Mick and Keith, and Howling Wolf and a bunch of them. So if this was an episode, it would end with a song. And the song, as far as I’m concerned, would be Joan Osborne’s “(What If God Was) One Of Us?” And the set-up for this — we never did this, and you never even heard this — is that Tony was somehow lost in the Meadowlands. He didn’t have his car, and his wallet, and his car keys. I forget how he got there — there was some kind of a scrape — but he had nothing in his pocket but some change. He didn’t have his guys with him, he didn’t have his gun. And so mob boss Tony Soprano had to be one of the working stiffs, getting in line for the bus. And the way we were going to film it, he was going to get on the bus, and the lyric that would’ve one over that would’ve been — and we don’t have Joan Osborne to sing it:
If God had a face
what would it look like?
And would you want to see
if seeing meant you had to believe?
And yeah, yeah, God is great.
Yeah, yeah, God is good.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So Tony would get on the bus, and he would sit there, and the bus would pull out in this big billow of diesel smoke. And then the key lyric would come on, and it was
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
trying to make his way home.
And that would’ve been playing over your face, Jimmy. But then — and this is where it gets kind of strange — now I would have to update, because of the events of the last week. And I would let the song play further, and the lyrics would be
Just trying to make his way home
Like a holy rollin’ stone
Back up to Heaven all alone
Nobody callin’ on the phone
‘Cept for the Pope, maybe, in Rome.
[photo via AP]