Is Tony Soprano dead? David Chase responds to debate that won’t die

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in a scene from one of the last episodes of the HBO dramatic series "The Sopranos."
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in a scene from one of the last episodes of the HBO dramatic series “The Sopranos.”
(Craig Blankenhorn / HBO)

It’s been seven years since “The Sopranos” came to an end with the fate of its protagonist, Tony Soprano, left intentionally, if maddeningly, open to interpretation.

Despite the passage of time, creator David Chase has been unable to escape the question of what “really” happened to Tony, played by the late James Gandolfini, after that abrupt cut-to-black. To borrow some lyrics from Journey, some fans just won’t stop believing that hidden somewhere in those tense minutes at a New Jersey diner is the truth about the crime boss’ destiny.

The debate has once again flared up online, thanks to a story published by the website Vox on Wednesday with the attention-getting headline, “Did Tony die at the end of ‘The Sopranos’? David Chase finally answers the question he wants fans to stop asking.”

In what amounts to a lengthy critical essay disguised as a scoop, writer Martha P. Nochimson looks far and wide for insight into what remains perhaps the most confounding finale in television history. She closely examines not only “The Sopranos,” but also Chase’s 2012 feature film “Not Fade Away,” his creative influences (Edgar Allan Poe, Pink Floyd, Luis Bunuel) and and even his high school prom pictures (naturally).


She also interviews Chase, both in person and via email, and during one of their exchanges asks about the infamous ending to “The Sopranos.” Here’s her account:

“When he answered the ‘Did Tony die’ question, he was laconic. Just the fact and no interpretation. He shook his head and said, ‘No, he isn’t’. That was all.”

Nochimson doesn’t provide an enormous amount of context for Chase’s quote or elaborate about what qualifications might have followed it, yet she presents it as “bald fact” that Tony Soprano is still alive and well, at least in the confines of Chase’s imagination.

Of course, Chase could have meant many things when he said Tony wasn’t dead, such as “No, he isn’t dead because he’s a fictional character.” Or perhaps, “No, he isn’t dead, but he isn’t alive either, because the whole point is the lack of closure.” Or maybe even, “No, he isn’t dead necessarily. He is whatever you, the viewer, want him to be.”

Nevertheless, the supposed confession sparked an enormous reaction online Wednesday. So loud was the chatter that Chase’s publicist issued a statement saying Nochimson had “misconstrued” his words:

“To simply quote David as saying, ‘Tony Soprano is not dead,’ is inaccurate. There is a much larger context for that statement and as such, it is not true. As David Chase has said numerous times on the record, ‘Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point.’ To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of ‘The Sopranos’ raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.”

Frustrating as it must be for Chase to be asked the same literal-minded question repeatedly, he may also want to look on the bright side: Clearly people care about the character he created. Besides, he should be glad “The Sopranos” also predated the heyday of Twitter and Reddit, otherwise he might find himself addressing pesky conspiracy theories about Meadow and Sharon Tate.

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