R.I.P. James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini passed away in Rome, Italy due to an apparent heart attack. He was only 51 years old.

Gandolfini became famous with his portrayal of Tony Soprano. “The Sopranos” is one of the best and most influential dramas in TV history, and the success of the show hinged on Gandolfini’s role as Tony. In many ways the Tony Soprano character lived up to the stereotypes of a New Jersey mob boss, but the brilliance and appeal of “The Sopranos” derived from showing every aspect of Tony’s life, including the small challenges and joys of everyday life. The hook was the idea that this mob boss was seeing a psychiatrist to deal with his panic attacks, but that was just the device to help David Chase flush out this complex and fascinating character.

The writing on the show was brilliant, but it would have gone nowhere without Gandolfini in the lead role. The Tony he created was real, so all the tough guy mob scenes seemed authentic and believable, just like his interactions with his family and friends. Of course, he and the show benefited from an amazing cast, with Edie Falco as Carmela in an equally compelling role. With the two of them, we saw all of the conflicts and contradictions of the lives they lived.

“The Sopranos” helped bring about the revolution in television that saw an explosion of creativity on cable TV, a process that is now broadening even further to streaming original shows on Netflix. Forget about broadcast TV and even most movies – the best stuff is all happening on cable, and that’s been the case for years. In a world where we can access all of these shows on multiple formats and on multiple devices, viewers are much better off watching series like “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Wire,” etc. over the latest movies. You can’t underestimate the influence of “The Sopranos” and James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano.

  

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R.I.P. Robert F. Chew, aka Proposition Joe from ‘The Wire’

One of the best actors from the best television drama of all time has passed away. Robert F. Chew played Proposition Joe on “The Wire,” and in the scene above he gets a threatening visit from Omar.

Check out this excellent obituary from the Baltimore Sun.

Robert F. Chew, a 52-year-old Baltimore actor and teacher who portrayed one of television’s most unforgettable characters as Proposition Joe on HBO’s “The Wire,” died Thursday of apparent heart failure in his sleep at his home in Northeast Baltimore, according to Clarice Chews, his sister.

Mr. Chew, who appeared in “Homicide” and “the Corner,” as well as “The Wire,” also taught and mentored child and young adult actors at Baltimore’s Arena Players, a troupe he stayed with as his television career blossomed through his work with David Simon. Through the Areana Players Youth Theatre, he brought new talent to the attention of casting directors and coached the team of young actors who played students in the Baltimore City School system in Season 4 of “The Wire.”

“Robert was not only an exceptional actor, he was an essential part of the film and theater community in Baltimore,” David Simon, creator of ‘The Wire’ said in an email Friday. “He could have gone to New York or Los Angeles and commanded a lot more work, but he loved the city as his home and chose to remain here working. He understood so much about his craft that it was no surprise at all that we would go to him to coach our young actors in season four. He was the conduit through which they internalized their remarkable performances.”

Chew was an absolute master with dialogue and facial expressions, and it’s fascinating to learn in this article that many of the kids who starred in Season 4 of “The Wire” were his students. If you haven’t seen this show, get the DVD or download it now. You won’t regret it.

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R.I.P. Charles Durning

You’ll probably recognize this great character actor from movies like “Tootsie” or “The Sting.” Charles Durning passed away at the age of 89, and the man lived an incredible life, as you can see in his obituary.

  

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