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A role for the ages

Jun 20, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

James Gandolfini and Tony Soprano

Forget that "Sopranos" reunion. Tony has been whacked.

Every actor dreams of the great role, the chance to play a part that is originated by that actor, perfected by him, acclaimed by audiences and critics, and forever associated with him and no one else.

They might all dream of it, but few ever get it.

James Gandolfini did.

He appeared in many movies and stage productions, and acted on television. But he will be remembered -- forever and with great appreciation -- as Tony Soprano.

You either were a fan of "The Sopranos" on HBO, or you weren't. Most people who saw it were. Gandolfini, playing New Jersey family man and organized crime boss Tony Soprano, was that show's core for eight years.

One of the great accomplishments in drama is the creation of a character who is flawed, troubled, corrupt, even cruel, but still is able to elicit the rooting interest from the audience. That is what James Gandolfini did in playing Tony Soprano. Tony did some very bad things, yet still we cared about him.

Big, brutal, profane and physical, Tony also was emotional, reflective and sentimental. He was a fixer, a problem solver, a decision maker and a man of action. He also was a man troubled by marriage, struggling with fatherhood, exhausted by personnel troubles, and burdened by the expectations of others.

He did not invent the character or write the scripts, but Gandolfini was Tony Soprano, in a way so immersing and so convincing that it simply isn't possible to imagine another person having played the role or ever playing it again.

James Gandolfini died Wednesday in Italy. He was just 51 years old.

Here's hoping he's enjoying a cannoli with Livia and Uncle Junior.

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