As New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano on The Sopranos, which ran on HBO from 1999 to 2007, James Gandolfini created a character that helped open television to a new era of great and nuanced acting. When he died in Italy on Wednesday at the age of 51, fans around the world were shocked.
And as Fresh Air's television critic David Bianculli noticed, there was an instant online outpouring that celebrated "what an iconic performance he gave us in terms of television."
"I think," says Bianculli, "it's the best television performance of this current century, the most defining one."
Although Fresh Air and the people who work here were big fans of The Sopranos, Gandolfini was never on our show. The understanding was that he shied away from interviews.
Nevertheless, to pay tribute to a great actor, today's Fresh Air reaches into the archives for interviews with a few of those who knew Gandolfini and worked with him.
In 2000, Sopranos creator David Chase gave a great deal of the credit for the show to his star, saying that "without Jim Gandolfini there is no Sopranos."
A year later, Edie Falco, who played Gandolfini's wife, Carmela, on the show, talked about how she kept a personal distance from him to maintain the closeness of their fictional relationship.
And in 2012, actor Jeff Daniels spoke about working with Gandolfini on the Broadway production of God of Carnage.
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