James Gandolfini enters New Jersey Hall of Fame
Five cast members of the hit HBO drama were on hand as Gandolfini, who played mob boss Tony Soprano, was honored, as much for his love of the state as for his TV fame.
"Hey, J stands for Jersey and for Jimmy," said Vincent Pastore, who played mobster Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero. "Jimmy should be remembered for his work, for his love of his family and for his compulsion to let people know how great New Jersey is. It was beyond perfect that he played a mob boss from New Jersey."
Gandolfini was a Westwood native. He graduated from Rutgers University and won three Emmy awards for his portrayal of the neurotic north Jersey mob boss who ran his business with an iron fist but saw a shrink to deal with his anxieties. He died in Italy last year at age 51.
Aida Turturro, who played Tony's sister Janice, said Gandolfini had "the biggest, most sweetest heart ever. He was a true friend. I was his sister in many ways."
Tony Sirico, who played mobster Paulie Walnuts, said Gandolfini has already copped the ultimate accolade. Looking up toward the sky, Sirico said, "Jimmy's already in the Hall of Fame, whether you know it or not."
"He was a great guy with a big heart," Sirico said. "And he was all man. He was a good soul."
Gandolfini's widow, Deborah Lin, said he truly loved where he was from.
"He was very proud to be from New Jersey," she said. "His happiest moments were always in New Jersey."
And the only Jersey boss more powerful than Tony Soprano gave his blessing to Gandolfini.
"God bless you, Jimmy," said rocker Bruce Springsteen, a surprise presenter at the ceremony in the seaside town he helped put on the rock 'n' roll map.
Other inductees into the New Jersey Hall of Fame included women's rights crusader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, chef Alice Waters, author Dorothy Parker, basketball great Patrick Ewing, The Shirelles, former Gov. Jim Florio, NFL executive Howard Katz, labor leader Peter McGuire, Holocaust survivor and educator Maud Dahme and NBC News anchor Brian Williams.
Past inductees to the Web-based hall include Springsteen, Jack Nicholson, Whitney Houston, Toni Morrison, Buzz Aldrin and Yogi Berra.