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Bidding Farewell To Tony Soprano

James Gandolfini played Tony Soprano in the hit TV series <em>The Sopranos</em>. Gandolfini died of cardiac arrest in Italy this week at age 51.
Barry Wetcher
James Gandolfini played Tony Soprano in the hit TV series The Sopranos. Gandolfini died of cardiac arrest in Italy this week at age 51.

Anthony Soprano, a waste-management consultant from Essex County, N.J., died this week.

Tony Soprano was — according to reports that aired for six years on HBO — head of the DiMeo crime family, which allegedly ran illicit drugs, untaxed alcohol, illegal sports betting and other criminal enterprises from the back of an adult entertainment venue called the Bada Bing club on Route 17 in Lodi.

Mr. Soprano denied his involvement in organized crime. He said it was a "vicious stereotype" that slurs waste-removal professionals who promote a green, healthy environment.

Mr. Soprano's survivors include his wife, Carmela, who loved him, but was often exasperated by his frequent absences from family life; a daughter, Meadow, who cherished him but could be embarrassed by her family; and a son, Anthony Jr., who was diffident, rebellious, but still relied on his family for support.

Mr. Soprano also left several grieving mistresses and their jewelry. He loved animals, including ducks that waddled into his swimming pool.

Mr. Soprano's mother once tried to have him killed. This made family gatherings awkward.

This week, Mr. Soprano was remembered by associates for uttering many memorable, self-revelatory phrases. "What kind of person can I be," he once exclaimed, "where his own mother wants him dead?"

He also became a public symbol for mental health by seeking professional counseling for his feelings of anxiety and ennui. "This isn't painful," he told his psychiatrist. "Getting shot is painful. Getting stabbed in the ribs is painful. This isn't painful. It's empty. Dead."

Mr. Soprano was suspected — but never convicted — of several murders, including the killing of Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero, who had become an FBI informant; Ralphie Cifaretto, whom Mr. Soprano held responsible for killing his racehorse for insurance money; and Christopher Moltisanti, Mr. Soprano's own nephew, who was addicted to drugs and therefore considered vulnerable to turning state's evidence for the feds — excuse me, federal investigators.

Mr. Soprano also allegedly ordered the execution of Adriana La Cerva, Mr. Moltisanti's girlfriend, because she wanted "Chris-ta-pha" to join her in the Witness Protection Program.

But Mr. Soprano defended Vito Spatafore from other mobsters who wanted him murdered when his homosexuality was revealed.

Tony Soprano was a brutal, loyal, sentimental, cruel and enthralling character who danced on a high wire between humanity and absurdity. He died this week when James Gandolfini, the actor who portrayed him so deftly and indelibly on The Sopranos, died this week at the age of 51.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.