I was shocked to hear the news that James Gandolfini, best known for his role as North Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack while on holiday in Rome.
There is a great divide among editorial cartoonists about drawing cartoons in tribute to famous or important individuals who have passed on. On the one hand, a cartoon is worth a thousand words, and a single, powerful image representing the life of someone who was revered can connect with readers in a dramatic way. On the other, obituary cartoons can all too quickly end up being hackneyed attempts to finish work early, with famous people talking with St. Peter about entering heaven, regardless of their religion.
I don’t know if this cartoon will connect with anyone who didn’t watch “The Sopranos,” but I wanted to pay tribute to a show that I greatly admired, and the actor that made it possible. For me, the first two seasons of “The Sopranos” rank among the best ever aired on TV. From there, the show became uneven at best, but it was always made watchable by Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano, a mob boss on Prozac who cried about ducks leaving his pool just after running down a gambler who owed him money.
I’m sure when news first broke about Gandolfini’s passing, a lot of people first thought of the “The Sopranos” much talked about season finale and its sudden cut to black as symbolism of Gandolfini’s terrific talent cut short before its time.
Not me. I couldn’t help but think of the season six episode “Mayham,” Tony is in a coma, and dreams that his cousin (someone he murdered in a previous episode) is a doorman at an inn where a dinner party is being held. Tony’s cousin urges him to go in, telling Tony everyone that he knows is inside. There’s just one catch – Tony has to leave his briefcase outside. Tony is reluctant to let go, telling his cousin that his “whole life is in there.” The implication is Tony’s about to die and cross over into the afterlife, and the only thing preventing it is his unwillingness to leave his mortal life behind.
Looks like Gandolfini decided to let his briefcase go.
Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.