Remembering James Gandolfini and How His Iconic Role as Tony Soprano Changed TV

The famed actor is gone too soon, but we will never forget how he changed the small screen forever

Universal shock and dismay. It's the only way to describe the entertainment world's reaction to the news of the sudden death of James Gandolfini on June 19, of an apparent heart attack while vacationing in Rome.

Everyone loved this guy. No matter what you thought of his iconic character on HBO's The Sopranos, there was no denying the adept charm and grit that Gandolfini brought to Tony Soprano -- the most lovable gangster on Earth.

Gandolfini didn't just win Emmys for his role as Tony on The Sopranos, which aired from 1999-2007 (though he did take home three of them). He changed TV for the better, and critics are lining up to pay him homage.

"[He] gave one of the greatest performances in one of the greatest roles in one of the greatest series at the dawn of what is now regarded as television's new golden age," wrote People's Tom Gliatto.  Indeed, his performance paved the way for a host of fascinating and complex TV anti-heroes, like Breaking Bad's Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Dexter's Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) and even Weeds' Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) and Enlightened's Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern).

And beyond his superlative-worthy acting, he connected with people. "James Gandolfini was real," wrote Vulture's Matt Zoller Seitz. "He was special. You could feel it. Friends felt it. Colleagues felt it. People who talked to him for five minutes and never saw him again felt it. People who never met him in person and knew him only through his performance on The Sopranos felt it." Here are just a few reasons why this actor will be sorely missed.

There was a time on TV, not so very long ago, when you had to have six pack abs, a pretty face, and maybe even a gorgeous mane to be a sexy leading man. Gandolfini turned that idea on its head. "Would you ever think a fat, balding murderer who walks around the hosue in his boxers, drinks milk from the carton and eats cold spaghetti our of the refrigerator could be sexy?" asked the Daily News in 2001. "Have you ever seen Tony Soprano?" Gandolfini himself was puzzled by this. "That sex symbol thing is so freaky to me," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I'm the guy on TV in that lovely terry-cloth robe with his big gut hanging out." Watch here.

He could blend comedy and drama seamlessly all in the space of one scene. Watch him do it here:

He made a murderous mafia boss into a character so lovable, we found ourselves rooting for him right to the end. Many wondered: Did Tony die when the final scene abruptly ended? But the real question was: Did we want him to? No way. Watch here.

Everyone loved this guy. We still do.

Jennifer Graham Kizer is an iVillage contributing writer. Follow her on Google+

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