James Gandolfini funeral draws family, fans and stars in New York

Family, friends and fans of James Gandolfini gathered in New York Thursday for a final remembrance of the actor known for his role as the tough-guy mob boss on "The Sopranos." Co-stars from that series -- usually recognized for their stoicism -- embraced one another with trembling lips and sorrowful faces as they entered the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.

Gandolfini, 51, died of a heart attack in Rome on June 19. His 90-minute funeral was led by The Very Reverend Dr. James A Kowalski. Gandolfini’s wife, Deborah Lin Gandolfini, provided the first of four remembrances. In brief but emotional remarks, she spoke tearfully of her late husband as a great father to his children, 13-year-old Michael and 9-month-old Liliana. She called him an “honest, kind and loving man” who “ironically, was extremely private.”

Image: James Gandolfini casket Andrew Burton / Getty Images
The casket carrying James Gandolfini is carried out after his funeral at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York on Thursday.

Two close friends of Gandolfini’s spoke next: Thomas Richardson and Susan Aston. Richardson talked of being in Rome with Gandolfini, lighting a candle in a cathedral and praying at the statue of St. Francis. “Jim grew each and every day because he was open,” said Richardson, who added that with Gandolfini, “every day was an adventure.”

Aston was not just a friend; she had worked with Gandolfini for decades. On “The Sopranos” she served as his dialogue coach. She remembered the two of them working together in the 1980s and recalled how Gandolfini once shored up her courage before going onstage by saying, “What’s the worst that can happen? We suck?”

At one point, she dropped yet another nickname for the actor, referring to him as “Buck.”

David Chase, creator and executive producer of “The Sopranos,” wrapped up the remembrances with his own, which took the form of a letter. “Dear Jimmy,” he began, then addressed the eulogy directly to the late actor. He said he wanted to get some laughs, that’s what all the advice he heard said he should do, but “I’m too sad and full of despair.”

Nonetheless, Chase’s remembrance did elicit some laughs, particularly when he said he was “scared” to speak at the service, and considered running away for four days, a reference to the time Gandolfini vanished from production on “Sopranos” early in the show’s run.

He spoke of working with Gandolfini, who took his role to heart. One scene they filmed involved the actor slamming a refrigerator door in irritation repeatedly, even though the script didn’t specifically call for him to do that -- he ultimately broke the refrigerator. “This role, this role, the places it takes me to,” Chase said the actor muttered about that event.

Later, Chase noted, “Sometimes you tried too hard. The refrigerator is one example."

Image: David Chase D Dipasupil / Getty Images
David Chase, center, creator of "The Sopranos," attends Thursday's funeral.

But Chase revealed much about how he saw Gandolfini and the character of Tony Soprano with an anecdote that also came from the show. It was a hot day of filming, and he caught Gandolfini sitting in a lawn chair in black socks and shoes, pants rolled up, a wet handkerchief on his head to help him stay cool. Chase said he saw that and “was filled with love, because I knew I was in the right place.” He said that was precisely what his own relatives used to do on a hot day, working in construction (“What is it about Italians and concrete,” quipped Chase) in New Jersey. “I was so proud of our heritage,” he said, choking up.

Chase also recalled a time when Gandolfini told him, "I just want to be a man."

"The paradox with you I always felt was I was seeing a young boy, because you are boyish. ... That is why you were an amazing actor, that child inside,” Chase said.

He ended his “letter” by relating a scene they never shot, but one he had mapped out: Tony Soprano is stranded in the Meadowlands with nothing in his pockets except some change, no crew around him, and has to board a bus to get home like everyone else. The idea was the episode would end with Tony’s face on the bus as Joan Osborne’s “What if God Was One of Us” played (and its lines “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”), as the credits rolled.

Chase then ended his speech with the same letter format: “Love, David.”

Among others who attended the service were Gandolfini's “Sopranos” co-stars Edie Falco, Dominic Chianese, Joe Pantoliano, Aida Turturro and Julianna Margulies. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was also in attendance.

Gandolfini was also remembered Wednesday at a private, invitation-only wake held in Park Ridge, N.J. Gandolfini’s wife and daughter were among the first to arrive, according to the New York Daily News.

"It's a nightmare for the whole family," Bob Price, whose wife is a Gandolfini cousin, told the paper. "It's a horrible, horrible thing. Everybody is just devastated."

Image: Edie Falco Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images
Actress Edie Falco, right, best known as Carmela Soprano in "The Sopranos," arrives at the church.
Image: Dominic Chianese Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images
Actor Dominic Chianese, left, who played Uncle Junior in "The Sopranos."
Image: Joe Pantoliano Julio Cortez / AP
Actor Joe Pantoliano, who starred as Ralph Cifaretto on "The Sopranos."
Image: Steve Schirripa Richard Drew / AP
Actor Steve Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccalieri on "The Sopranos."
Image: Jamie Lynn Sigler Mike Coppola / Getty Images
Actress Jamie Lynn Sigler, who starred as Tony Soprano's daughter, Meadow.
Image: Michael Gandolfini Richard Drew / AP
Michael Gandolfini, left, the 13-year-old son of James Gandolfini, who was vacationing with his father when he died.
Image: Steve Buscemi and Michael Imperioli Mike Coppola / Getty Images
Actors Steve Buscemi, left, star of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," embraces actor Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti on "The Sopranos."
Image: Lorraine Bracco Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images
Actress Lorraine Bracco, right, best known for her role as Dr. Jennifer Melfi on "The Sopranos."
Image: Chris Christie Julio Cortez / AP
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie paid his respects to a Jersey icon.
Image: Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth Richard Drew / AP
Actress Julianna Margulies and actor Chris Noth attended the services. Margulies played Julianna Skiff on "The Sopranos."
Image: Vincent Pastore and Aida Turturro Richard Drew / AP
Actor Vincent Pastore, left, who played Salvatore Bonpensiero, and actress Aida Turturro, who played Janice Soprano.
  • Slideshow Photos

    Image: James Gandolfini

    James Gandolfini, 1961-2013

    The award-winning actor made even brutal mob boss Tony Soprano seem likable, but that was far from his only role.

  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    He's the boss -

    James Gandolfini rose to fame as mob boss Tony Soprano on HBO's hit drama "The Sopranos," which ran from 1999 to 2007. He passed away on June 19.

    Michael Imperioli played his wife's cousin and Tony's own protege, Christopher Moltisanti. Gandolfini's character paved the way for other antiheroes to come, including "Breaking Bad's" Walter White, "Dexter's" Dexter Morgan and "Mad Men's" Jon Hamm, to name a few. All are highly flawed, but beloved by viewers.

    Barry Wetcher / AP
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    Family time -

    The actor attended the opening night of Cirque du Soleil's "Banana Shpeel" at the Beacon Theatre on May 19, 2010 in New York with his wife Deborah and son Michael. The teenager was the one who discovered Gandolfini collapsed in their hotel bathroom.

    Bobby Bank / WireImage
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    Supporting the troops -

    Gandolfini attended the New York premiere of HBO's documentary film "Which Way Is The Frontline From Here?" on April 10, 2013. The film follows the work of photographer Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Libya. Gandolfini himself produced two documentaries examining the difficulties facing America's soldiers and Marines.

    Ilya S. Savenok / Getty Images
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' -

    As the wealthy owner of Bally's Casino, Gandolfini was very much in charge of the wacky magicians (including Steve Carell) who want to perform in his establishment in 2013's "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone." Reportedly, the actor traveled to Las Vegas to research his role.

    New Line Cinema
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    A few words -

    Gandolfini spoke onstage at the 2012 New York Film Critics Circle Awards at Crimson on Jan. 7, 2013, in New York.

    Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    'Not Fade Away' -

    Gandolfini teamed up with "Sopranos" creator David Chase again for the 2012 film "Not Fade Away," in which he played, Pat, an Italian immigrant who was father to a young Italian-American with dreams of becoming a rock star in 1960s New Jersey.

  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    'Zero Dark Thirty' -

    Though Gandolfini's character was named as only "CIA director" in the 2012 Oscar-nominated film, presumably he was playing Leon Panetta, who was in charge of the agency when Osama Bin Laden was killed, which was the subject of the film.

    Everett Collection
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    'Killing Them Softly' -

    Gandolfini starred alongside Brad Pitt as hitman Mickey Fallon in the 2012 crime film "Killing Them Softly."

    Melinda Sue Gordon / AP
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    'Welcome to the Rileys' -

    Gandolfini played Doug Riley, a father grieving the death of his daughter in the 2010 film "Welcome to the Rileys." Kristen Stewart played a 16-year-old stripper named Mallory with whom Doug moves in while he tries to put himself back together.

  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    'God of Carnage' -

    James Gandolfini starred with Marcia Gay Harden on Broadway in "God of Carnage" in 2009. The role earned the actor a Tony nomination.

  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    'Where the Wild Things Are' -

    Gandolfini has always been bigger than life, and in the 2009 adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are" it was even more true -- despite the fact that he never appeared in person on screen. Gandolfini voiced the head Wild Thing, named Carol (pictured with actor Max Records, who played Max).

    Warner Bros. Pictures
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    'Surviving Christmas' -

    In 2004's "Surviving Christmas," Gandolfini played a suburban father who clobbers Ben Affleck him with a shovel, but ends up having him over for the holiday.

    Everett Collection
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    'The Man Who Wasn't There' -

    In 2001's neo-noir "The Man Who Wasn't There," Gandolfini (pictured with Katherine Borowitz) played "Big Dave" Brewster, a braggart who claims to have served in WWII's Pacific Theatre.

    Everett Collection
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    'The Mexican' -

    In the 2001 comedy "The Mexican," Gandolfini played a sensitive, gay hitman who made it his business to protect Julia Roberts' Samantha.

    Everett Collection
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    Golden night -

    Gandolfini won the Emmy for best lead actor in a drama series in 2000 for his role as Tony Soprano, an honor he would claim two more times. The actor also won a Golden Globe for best performance by an actor and three SAG awards for outstanding performance by a male actor, among many more honors.

    Scott Nelson / AFP/Getty Images
  • James Gandolfini, 1961-2013


    Mobster men -

    Tony Sirico (as Paulie), Michael Imperioli (as Christopher) and Steven Van Zandt (Silvio) starred as mob men who did the bidding of boss Tony Soprano (Gandolfini) in the HBO drama "The Sopranos."

    Barry Wetcher / HBO