Alongside Mr. Spock, Archie Bunker and the Fonz,
In every sense of the term, Gandolfini's mob boss was larger than life: a man of grand appetites, enormous externalized rage and tremendous heart who cast an equally gigantic shadow across popular culture during six seasons on HBO's
While the multiple Emmy winner, who died unexpectedly Wednesday on a trip to Italy, will be remembered as a loving father, "a man of tremendous depth and sensitivity" (according to his "Sopranos" costar Edie Falco), a journeyman movie actor and "a true New Jersey guy" (as recalled by New Jersey Gov.
His was a character whose cultural sweep reached from beyond the cable box, into the street as well as the corridors of real-life political power.
Moreover, playing the kind of guy that other men aspired to be and women wanted to be with, he recast notions of what a leading man on television could look like in his own outsized image.
Gandolfini's appeal defied demographics and national boundaries. His character became an avatar of Italian American-ness shouted out by hip-hop artists on rap songs and a de facto champion of "old school" values in a swag-suite-filled world, trawling the Tri-State area in a leather car coat, blasting oldies rock 'n' roll with an immense, Churchill-gauge cigar clenched between his lips.
As Tony Soprano, the actor became the unlikeliest of all sex symbols: a morbidly obese, balding, middle-aged dad from suburban New Jersey who — in addition to suffering from panic attacks, anger-management issues and a mommy complex — was amply depicted shuffling around his McMansion in a fluffy bathrobe, wife-beater T-shirt and yesterday's boxer shorts.
As far back as 2001, a
More central to Gandolfini's cultural legacy, however, is his charismatic characterization of a deeply flawed man. A sad-eyed hulk with a slightly adenoidal speaking voice who's as capable of tending to the migratory ducks in his swimming pool as murdering a beloved nephew, he forever rejiggered television's fascination with morally challenged antiheroes and less-than-physically-perfect protagonists.
So much of the programming that followed arguably owes Tony Soprano a psychic hat-tip: "
"I owe him," "Breaking Bad" star
But Gandolfini's most famous dramatic persona helped move the cultural thermometer in other ways too. With the early '00s bloom of "Sopranos" popularity, his performance inspired business education guides such as "Tony Soprano on Management: Leadership Lessons Inspired by America's Favorite Mobster" by Anthony Schneider.
And Tony's name evolved into shorthand among political pundits for raging ambition and unbridled clout.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd compared
"One thing about us tough guys, the hustle never ends," Gandolfini famously uttered on "The Sopranos," a remark that was retweeted thousands of times in hours immediately following the actor's death.
In homage on Wednesday, the "Sopranos" theme song "Woke Up This Morning" by the Alabama 3 was played over the PA system at New York's
At Holsten's, the