Tony Soprano’s brooding presence haunted my dreams this summer. Binging on three or four episodes before bedtime, I would close my eyes and see him staring back at me, his face inevitably contorted by some obscure rage. A cigar drooping from his mouth, the hulking figure of Tony Soprano became a fixture in my nocturnal life.
I was lucky enough to receive a complete boxset of The Sopranos for my birthday early on in the year, but it wasn’t until the warmer months that I had the time to work my way through David Chase’s mob saga. I was in the middle of the final season on the June day that James Gandolfini died. I’d received the results of my degree that afternoon, and found myself in a very tired and emotional state when I returned home to the awful news of his death.
After watching Tony Soprano for so many hours – furiously pacing some overgrown New Jersey backlot, staring blankly into a fridge or putting a bullet into the back of a guy’s head – I felt an overwhelming sadness knowing that the man behind this masterful portrayal of a psychopath was dead. I’d witnessed Tony Soprano run the whole gamut of human emotion and activity, and Gandolfini’s death felt weirdly like that of someone I knew first hand. It was an uncanny, unpleasant feeling – this sort of grief for a man I’d never met but had seen murder, nurture, binge-eat and watch history documentaries (often in the space of a single hour).
But I don’t want to conflate James Gandolfini with the character who stalked my dreams. The beady black eyes of Tony Soprano are a fiction, and it’s testament to Gandolfini’s greatness that I felt them burning a hole in my back so many times this summer.