The late James Gandolfini on December 10, 2012. Photo by Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
Sopranos star James Gandolfini dies in Italy (Reuters)
James Gandolfini, the burly actor best known for his Emmy-winning portrayal of a conflicted New Jersey mob boss in the groundbreaking TV series "The Sopranos," died on Wednesday vacationing in Italy. He was 51.
Gandolfini, whose performance as Tony Soprano made him a household name and ushered in a new era of American television drama, had been scheduled to attend the closing of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily on Saturday.
He may have suffered a heart attack, Mara Mikialian, the spokeswoman for the HBO network that produced The Sopranos, told Reuters.
Jewish celebrities react
James Gandolfini's Jewish links: Shrinks, gangsters and Maurice Sendak (by Nathan Abrams, Haaretz)
Italian-American actor James Gandolfini (1961-2013), while not Jewish, showed a deep affinity with Jews. His most iconic role, Tony Soprano, in the award-winning mafia TV series “The Sopranos,” was engaged in a very Jewish business. There were many Jewish gangsters and criminals both in film and reality. These included crime czar Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg) in “The Godfather: Part II” (1974) – a fictional character, based heavily on real-life gangster Meyer Lansky.
One of Tony’s closest confidants was Herman “Hesh” Rabkin, a retired music industry producer who knew Tony’s late father. Tony often relied on Hesh for advice (and occasionally money) and, in return, he was one of the few characters not to meet an untimely death.
Tony Soprano, psychoanalysis and the Jews (by Ami Eden, JTA)
From my Forward days: A Jewish take on Tony Soprano and psychoanalysis:
If leaders are measured by how they treat their Jews, then Tony Soprano qualifies as a world-class statesman.
Of course, “The Sopranos” features its share of corrupt Jews — ultra-Orthodox and secular — as well as several marginally antisemitic wiseguys. Yet Tony has evinced a decidedly philosemitic streak — one that might, in fact, explain how this Jersey mob boss ended up on a psychiatrist’s couch.
The tradition — in life and in fiction — of Jewish ties to the Mafia is a rich, albeit rocky, one. Tony’s cinematic predecessor, the original Godfather, Vito Corleone, famously respected Hyman Roth, did business with Hyman Roth, but he never trusted Hyman Roth. Tony, on the other hand, not only trusts but loves Herman “Hesh” Rabkin, a mob-connected retired record producer who was close to Tony’s late father. Judging from his unwillingness to take Hesh’s money, Tony has more respect for his father’s old friend than he does for the Italian-blooded members of the family.
And the feeling extends beyond Hesh. Tony is livid when his daughter starts dating one of her fellow students at Columbia University, a half-Jewish half-black California kid. While Tony has plenty to say about his daughter seeing a black man, he expresses no discomfort about the Jewish half of the equation. Tony generally seems comfortable with, even proud of, his daughter’s ascent into Columbia’s heavily Jewish Ivy-League milieu, in sharp contrast to his tendency to view white-collar Italians as sellouts, not role models for assimilation. He disdains them, even as he grows increasingly dissatisfied with life as the top dog at the Bada Bing strip joint.
The key to understanding the presentation of Jews and Judaism on “The Sopranos,” however, is to recognize that the most important Jewish character on the show is not a person but a process: psychoanalysis.
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