It was a sad day for Hollywood as crowds began to form outside The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City. Limousines, Cadillacs, and security teams lined the street. Guest after guest showed up to attend the funeral of beloved actor James Gandolfini this morning between the hours of 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. Son Michael arrived at 8:29 a.m. and walked solemnly in the side entrance to the church after being welcomed with hugs from friends and family.
Soon, cast members of The Sopranos along with other celebrities, including Steve Buscemi and Alec Baldwin, began to arrive.
I was fortunate enough to attend the service inside, which was very touching. Some speeches were endearing while others made you laugh and gave you a glimpse into the fun spirit inside James Gandolfini … the man inside the actor … the boy inside the man. I share with you my experience at James Gandolfini’s funeral as I was privileged to be included in Gandolfini’s world of love for just two hours, though the impression he left will last a lifetime.
James Gandolfinis Funeral today at Saint Johns Church pic.twitter.com/mz1OsmWrzA
— NYC Public Relations (@NYCPRTeam) June 27, 2013
We were at James Gandolfini’s funeral today and brought back the official program for you to read: http://t.co/prJFfJknhV
— Heavy.com (@HeavySan) June 27, 2013
1. Gandolfini’s Wife Deborah Lin Was the First to Speak
Opening the remembrances, Deborah Lin addressed attendees thanking them for their love and support. The grief-stricken widow fought tears as she delivered a short speech to guests and addressed her husband for the last time.
My husband was an honest, kind and loving man. He cared more about others than himself. He took the time to ask others in the course of the day how they were doing. He was always secretly helping someone.
She also said that James was “ironically private” and that one thing she loved most about him was the father that he was to Michael and Lily. Deborah Lin also made it known that his friends and family meant everything to him. She then directed her words to the man himself saying:
Jim, I love you and I always will. Rest in Peace.
Ex-wife Marcy Wudarski also attended the service looking very upset, as to be expected.
It was definitely a difficult day for the Gandolfini family, not to mention a horrible week. I wish them the same great love that they spoke about today to get them through this time.
2. David Chase, the Creator of The Sopranos, Reveals a Secret Scene of Tony Soprano Going to Heaven
Chase’s speech was one for the books. He said he tried to write a eulogy, but it came out like “bad TV”. Instead, he decided to write a letter to his friend Jim. For those Sopranos fans out there, in the letter, he revealed a never-filmed scene of The Sopranos to guests in the service.
Chase spoke about how each episode of the series ended with a song of some kind to evoke power and feeling. He said that if this were an episode, it would end with Joan Osborne’s (What If God Was) One Of Us. In telling us this, he was sure to confirm that the show never did this and no one ever heard this, but he continued to explain the “set-up” for Tony Soprano as:
Tony was somehow lost in the Meadowlands. He didn’t have his car, and his wallet, and his car keys. I forget how he got there, there was some kind of a scrape, but he had nothing in his pocket but some change. He didn’t have his guys with him. He didn’t have his gun. And, so mob boss Tony Soprano had to be one of the working stiffs, getting in line for the bus.
He explained that the way they were going to film was Tony Soprano getting on the bus and the lyrics would play:
If God had a face, what would it look like? And would you want to see, if seeing meant you had to believe?
Then, Tony would be sitting on the bus with more lyrics playing over his face:
What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home.
And, as Tony Soprano sat there, the bus would pull away in a big cloud of smoke. The addition to this scene was developed by Chase due to Gandolfini’s actual death as Chase explains:
I would have to update, because of the events of the last week. And I would let the song play further, and the lyrics would be ‘Just trying to make his way home, like a holy rollin’ stone, back up to Heaven all alone, nobody callin’ on the phone, ‘cept for the Pope, maybe, in Rome.’
I didn’t know whether to have the chills, shed tears, or giggle. It seemed as if a combination of the three resonated throughout the long cathedral hall.
St. John’s is actually 601 feet long, the greatest indoor length of any cathedral. The inside covers 121,000 square feet and the intricate interior embellishments extend as far as the eye can see. The outside’s not too shabby either.
3. Fans Were Allowed in to Pay Their Respects
As invited guests and celebrities made their way into the cathedral through the front as well as side entrances, adoring fans stood in line, hoping to enter the church to pay their respects as well.
Paying homage to James Gandolfini’s fans, the family allowed for hundreds of the fans to come in and view the service.
The surrounding community also celebrated the life of James Gandolfini while services were in session.
4. Celebrities Across the Board Showed Up for “Jimmy”
Alec Baldwin, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi, Joe Pantoliano, Bobby Cannavale, Chris Noth, Julianna Margulies, Mario Batali, and the cast of The Sopranos were just some of the stars in attendance today.
Lorraine Bracco, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Vincent Pastore, Michael Imperioli, Edie Falco, Aida Turturro (cousin to John), and Steve Schirripa were just some of the cast-mates who paid tribute to their “Tony Soprano”. Sigler seemed overwhelmed and heart-broken upon exiting the service.
Additional actors and members of Hollywood attended as well. Mixing with fans and the public, actors who have met the star, were inspired by him, or who were simply fans as well, gathered to watch the ceremony.
Just a few seats away, actor David Rasche sat and pleasantly listened to the service, singing along to some of the hymns.
Yet another prominent face at the memorial service was New Jersey’s Governor Christie, who was accompanied by bodyguards that looked like they had stepped out of a GQ magazine ad.
Yes, these guys are seriously his bodyguards.
Governor Christie paid his respects to Jersey Shore loving Gandolfini. #JerseyStrong
— NYC Public Relations (@NYCPRTeam) June 27, 2013
It is uncertain whether John Travolta attended the service.
5. Acting Coach Susan Aston Talks About Her Last Conversation with James Gandolfini
In Susan Aston’s last conversation with James Gandolfini she told us that she was talking to him about a movie role he had turned down because it was set to begin filming this summer. He told her that he was turning down the movie because it was most important to him to spend time with his family this summer on the Jersey shore and in California. It’s almost as if he knew his time would be limited.
What really struck a nerve with me personally was when Aston said that today was the easy part. As she fought back sobbing, she said:
The hardest part will be … How do we live the rest of our lives without James? … Jim … Jamie … Jimmy … Buck.
She called him her “big teddy bear of a friend”. Aston spoke of Gandolfini’s enormous heart, his poetry, his random silly emails, and his vulnerability. She also shared with us a little humor to lighten the mood. Aston stated that at times, James struggled with accepting himself where he fell short, so she would tell him what he told her long ago backstage in New York.
Aston, what’s the worst that can happen? We suck.
Laughter followed and Aston reverted back to a sincere remembrance of her dear friend James who “was never embarrassed of her laugh”.
6. Chase Shares a Funny Anecdote About Tony Soprano’s Run-in With a Fridge
Adding some more humor to the day in order to celebrate a funny memory of Gandolfini, Sopranos creator David Chase shared a story from the set of The Sopranos. One day at work, Steve VanZandt and James Gandolfini had to film a scene where Tony Soprano was getting news about the death of someone and it was “inconvenient” for him. Gandolfini was supposed to begin the scene by opening a refrigerator door and closing it angrily before he speaks. This did not go as planned.
And the cameras rolled, and you opened the refrigerator door, and you slammed it really hard … hard enough that it came back open again. And so you slammed it again. Then it came open again. You kept slamming it and slamming it and slamming it and slamming it. You went ape-shit on that refrigerator.
His partner in the scene, “Stevie”, didn’t really know how his character should react and the crew eventually had to call “cut”. Try as the crew may, they couldn’t fix the refrigerator. Nothing worked and they couldn’t get another one, which held up filming the whole day. With all the trouble this caused, Gandolfini begun to complain a little to which Chase replied:
Did I tell you to destroy the refrigerator? Did it say in the script, “Tony destroys a refrigerator”? It says “Tony angrily shuts the refrigerator door.” That’s what it says. You destroyed the fridge!
7. James’ Son Michael Has a New Goal for his Young Sister Lily
When dear friend Thomas Richardson delivered his speech, he commended Gandolfini’s son Michael.
You have shown such strength during an unbearable time.
He then told us all Michael’s ultimate goal. His goal is to carry on his father’s memory to his baby sister Lily who will not have memories of her own. His goal is to show Lily her father’s “goodness and generosity”.
Young Michael was a pallbearer for his father’s casket.
8. David Chase Said James Gandolfini Just Couldn’t Take the Heat
We are of course referring to New Jersey’s ridiculously hot summers. Chase recalled how Gandolfini would deal with the New Jersey heat like a true Italian. He’d sit on an aluminum beach chair with his pants rolled up, having his black socks and shoes completely showing, and wet handkerchief laying across his head like an old school Italian man. Chase remembers thinking:
Well, that’s really not a cool look.
He then talked about how he was filled with love and referenced the habits of his Italian uncles and grandfather who used to do the same thing. Chase also noted Gandolfini’s boyish quality, sweetly honoring him by saying:
You were a great actor because of that boy inside.
9. A Performance from Les Miserables Drew Tears from Attendees
Baritone Jesse Blumberg is singing bring him home from les mis at the funeral of #RIPJamesGandolfini
— Tony Lally (@tonynewquay) June 27, 2013
Famous Baritone singer Jesse Blumberg honored guests by singing a piece from Les Miserables called “Bring Him Home”. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house with Blumberg’s amazing voice and lyrics like:
God on high
Hear my prayer
In my need
You have always been there
He is young
Let him rest
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.
It was such a powerful moment in that great hall with Blumberg’s tremendous voice carrying throughout the room … so much emotion.
10. The Truth Behind Why Gandolfini Sometimes Snapped Was Explained
In Chase’s “letter” to Gandolfini today, he addressed some of Gandolfini’s negative attention in the media explaining:
Sometimes, your efforts were at cost to you and others, but you tried. And I’m thinking about the fact of how nice you were to strangers on the street, fans, photographers. You would be patient, loving and personal, and then finally you would just do too much. Then you would snap. And that’s of course what everybody read about … the snapping.
R.I.P. James Gandolfini. Our thoughts are with you and all who you touched.