Let it not be said that New Jersey doesn’t take care of its own, especially hometown boys like beloved gangster-cum-actor James Gandolfini. The former Sopranos star now has a whole day dedicated to his memory, all thanks to an online petition started by residents of his old stomping grounds in Park Ridge.
Yesterday, Dec. 1, marked the inaugural James Gandolfini Day in the actor’s hometown, with hundreds of attendees jamming Park Ridge’s busy Park Avenue intersection for a ceremony outside of one of Gandolfini’s old haunts, the Ridge Diner. Calling Gandolfini a “son of Park Ridge,” Mayor Terence Maguire rechristened a swath of Park Ave. “James Gandolfini Way.”
In attendance for Gandolfini’s memorial ceremony were several Sopranos cast members, including Dominic Chianese, Vincent Pastore, Steve Schirripa, Tony Sirico, and Vincent Curatola, along with Sopranos director Timothy Van Patten. Chianese, best known for his role as the deteriorating Uncle Junior, perhaps put Jersey’s emotions over Gandolfini’s death best: “All I can say is I thank God Jimmy Gandolfini was in my life.”
Gandolfini passed away of a heart attack in June while vacationing with his son, Michael, 14, in Italy. At yesterday’s ceremony, the young Gandolfini remembered his dad fondly, recalling trips to the Ridge Diner where he’d learn about his father’s roots and his own Jerseyian lineage. Former class members and neighbors, meanwhile, remembered Gandolfini as a Regular Joe who, to everyone’s surprise, became famous but never lost touch with his roots.
In that sense, it looks like you can’t take the Jersey out of the guy, after all. Next year, though, we’re going to need more cannolis.