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James Gandolfini Sept. 18, 1961 -- June 19, 2013

A look back at the entertainment legends who left us this year by artists who knew and loved them

Image credit: Michael O'Neill/Corbis Outline

James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini by Jamie Lynn-Sigler

My earliest memory from filming The Sopranos was when we shot the college episode. At the time, I was a fragile 17-year-old who tried to pretend to know what I was doing, but the truth was I was terrified. The show felt so huge and so important, and I was a kid from Long Island who had only done community theater. So one would think I would be the most scared when I was working with Jim. It was the exact opposite. He made it real. He made it authentic. He made it easy. He taught me how to be an actor in front of a camera, to ask for extra takes, and to make sure I always did a take ''for me.'' I remember when I walked into the conference room where we would have our read-throughs, his big hands grabbed mine and he led me to the chair at the head of the table where he always sat, and he said, ''Sit here — this episode is yours, Jamie.''

The first scene we shot later that week was the one in the car where I ask him if he's in the Mafia. I remember him asking me how I was doing, how I was feeling, over and over again before we started. Here was this man who could have only cared about his own process (and rightfully so), yet he was so concerned about mine. When Jim looked you in the eye, my God, you felt so safe. He was so genuine. I wanted to hug him. I still think to this day that that was my favorite scene I have ever acted in my life, and that was all because of the trust Jim taught me to have in someone else. He gave me countless gems of advice, my favorite one being ''When you audition, just f--- 'em, Jamie. Do it for you.''

Even behind the scenes, Jim always let you know that he was looking out for you. He probably never even knew the impact he had on so many of us. He was such a reluctant hero. That's one of the things that made him so special. He worked so hard on his craft, and worked just as hard, if not harder, on being a good person. And he was.

The last time I saw him was in March. A bunch of us got together at a casino, and he seemed so happy. We talked about my pregnancy, his new baby girl, the pilot he was working on. He was beaming, the happiest I had ever known him to be.

I've missed Jim since the moment we stopped shooting The Sopranos. I miss him being my dad, I miss the drunken food fight we had at the SAG Awards one year, I miss his bear hugs. He was a gift to this industry and an angel to me throughout my early career. I only hope to make him proud with my choices from here on out.

Gandolfini died of a heart attack in Rome.

Originally posted Dec 13, 2013 Published in issue #1291-1292 Dec 27, 2013 Order article reprints
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