Monday, December 02, 2013
PARK RIDGE, N.J. — As a teenager, James Gandolfini would hang out with friends on Friday nights at the Ridge Diner, on Park Avenue between his house and his high school.
Many years later, the man known to millions as Tony Soprano brought his son there and told him tales of his childhood.
On Sunday, the busy intersection by the diner was closed off to dedicate a stretch of Park Avenue to Gandolfini, the “son of Park Ridge,” as the mayor called him. He died in June of a heart attack.
Park Ridge residents remembered Gandolfini as the skinny kid who performed at the Little Theater at Park Ridge High School and who later became a humble star, but remained devoted to his family. Gandolfini also appeared in numerous films, including the recent hit “Enough Said.”
Joining Gandolfini’s wife, Deborah Lin, and son, Michael Gandolfini, on Sunday were “Sopranos” director Timothy Van Patten and cast members Steve Schirripa, Vincent Curatola, Tony Sirico, Dominic Chianese, Vincent Pastore and John Ventimiglia. Several town, county and state politicians also showed up.
The heavy turnout — hundreds thronged the intersection — prompted a joke from Mayor Terence Maguire that played on “The Sopranos’” mob theme.
“We thought maybe we were going to get a mob,” he said. “It looks like we did.”
The speakers, including Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan and Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, noted Gandolfini’s generosity, especially toward veterans’ causes, such as the Wounded Warrior Project.
Michael Gandolfini, his 14-year-old son, added a more personal note, saying he would “never forget going to the Park Ridge diner and eating there” with his father.
“He just told me every story about every place here,” Michael, from Los Angeles, said after the ceremony.
He added that his father, a graduate of Park Ridge High School and Rutgers University, “would be more honored than anything to be known as a true Jersey guy,” as Gov. Chris Christie called him after his death.
At the urging of the crowd, Chianese also took the stage. “All I can say is I thank God that Jimmy Gandolfini was in my life,” he said.
Besides dedicating the street, the Borough Council declared Sunday “James Gandolfini Day” in Park Ridge and read a proclamation honoring the actor.