The news that James Gandolfini had died in Rome of a heart attack earlier this week hit me, as I'm sure it did many Sopranos fans, like a punch to the gut. I felt as though a member of my own family had died.
For six years, beginning in 1999, Tony Soprano was a weekly visitor to our home each Sunday night during the seasons of The Sopranos. He was a brutal mob boss, but he was also a human being with human frailties and concerns and James Gandolfini made us care about him almost in spite of ourselves. That was his genius.
For those six years, The Sopranos was the best thing on television. Indeed, it made us see the possibilities of television, that it could be more than mindless sitcoms and cookie cutter cop and doctor shows.
It showed us a complicated family, one in which we could see our own families reflected, even if we had no connection to New Jersey mafiosi. We laughed, we cried, sometimes we yelled at the screen. It was a show that made us care.
In the end, like Gandolfini's life, it faded to black much too soon, leaving us puzzled and frustrated and wanting more.
James Gandolfini is gone, much to our sorrow, but Tony Soprano is an enduring character who will never die.