Jack Ohman

James Gandolfini: The tenor of the impact of The Sopranos...

The Mafia made the media an offer it could not refuse this week when the great actor James Gandolfini died on Wednesday, as those who have been ln solitary confinement in the Andromeda Galaxy may not have heard, and that there were new efforts to find Jimmy Hoffa's body.

I was absolutely stunned by the tsunami media response to Gandolfini. And here I am, writing about it. I won't be drawing about it, again, because I just think that obit cartoons, in order to be effective, should be done very sparingly. Otherwise, you're just doing a daily comic strip about the departed.

A very good friend of mine, cartoonist Mike Thompson of the Detroit Free Press, noted on his Facebook page this week that everyone makes jokes about Jimmy Hoffa's body and its whereabouts. Thompson then asked a very poignant question along these lines: what if your father had been murdered in 1975, and they never found the body? 

Would you think that was amusing to have someone make a joke about where your father's corpse might be? Hmm? Maybe in the Jets endzone (one place often speculated about)? Hey, did they ever dig up your father in the Meadowlands? 

Ha. Ha.

Jimmy Hoffa was a real person, not played by anyone in real life. Well, Jack Nicholson did, but you see where I'm going with this. Hoffa owned his own persona. James Gandolfini, in many ways, did not.

In a way, the lionization of The Sopranos star, and, to a lesser extent, the Mafia (which Tony told his daughter didn't exist, incidentally), is a fascinating commentary on our culture. I am not talking about James Gandolfini as a person here, who was obviously beloved by his family and fans (me included, which is why I am writing this). I am talking about one thing: our feelings of emotional devastation about someone we have never met.

You see, James Gandolfini died. Tony Soprano didn't. 

I know several people who were very emotional about this. Very. I am not discounting their emotions, either, because when someone famous goes down who was your age, it has a certain resonance. 

In a way, for the vast majority of people, James Gandolfini the real, live man and father didn't exist. I learned many things about the actor after he died, and that is not the case with our own friends in real life. He was shy. He was a former truck driver with a communications degree who tried out acting on a whim. He was very hard on himself. It made me like him even more.

When I watched all the tape of him at movie premiers and Emmy Award shows, I just saw Tony Soprano, and pretty much so did everyone else. It's almost like, say, your mother just died and then discovering she was actually played by Katherine Hepburn the whole time, and you never knew it. It's a weird dissociative media moment.

So I won't mourn Tony, because James Gandolfini brought his character to life, and, through the media, he will be always accessible to us. I am solely mourning James Gandolfini, the real person with problems and successes.