james gandolfini*There is little sadder than losing a prodigious talent well before his time on this Earth should have been up.

We look back on their work and their creations with unbelievable envy, and mourn not only for the person that we’ve lost, but the amazing work that they could have done had fate not intervened.

The universal sadness in the aftermath of James Gandolfini’s death last Wednesday – at the relatively young age of 51 – just shows the remarkable depth of the talent the big man brought to the stage, the movie screen and the television screen, as well as the good humor, good nature and good spirit he embodied off it. He was a giant in every sense of the word.

His performance as Tony Soprano in The Sopranos will always be the role most associated with Gandolfini, and justifiably so. Gandolfini brought an unparalleled feel and pathos to his role as the New Jersey mob boss, turning what could have been a one-note stereotype into one of the most complex and layered characters in the history of television. His work was groundbreaking – opening up a whole new world for American television drama. It would be hard to see Bryan Cranston’s Walter White on Breaking Bad or Jon Hamm’s Don Draper on Mad Men being greenlit without Gandolfini’s marvelous performance garnering critical acclaim.

He was much more than Soprano, though. His stage work – particularly on the God of Carnage production with Jeff Daniels – was legendary. He was an immense presence on the silver screen, too, going all the way back to his thuggish role in True Romance and seen most recently as the CIA director in Zero Dark Thirty. Seek out his comedic roles as an American general in In the Loop or as a bodyguard in Get Shorty if you want to see his remarkable range.

We should feel sad that Gandolfini has left us – and that there are no more wonders to come from his talent – but at least we can take some solace in the fact that he left such remarkable artifacts behind. Take some time in the next few days to fire up one of those Sopranos DVDs, or seek out one of his films so the depth of his genius can be properly appreciated.