James Gandolfini, whose bearish charm on HBO’s The Sopranos transformed Tony Soprano from mobster antihero to pop-culture icon, has received the ultimate New Jersey tribute — a Garden State Parkway rest stop named in his honor.
The late actor, who won three Emmy Awards for his work on the 1999–2007 HBO series, is among nine celebrities to be celebrated in this way by the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Local stars who have recently lent their names to Jersey rest stops include baseball pioneer Larry Doby, authors Toni Morrison and Judy Blume, and musicians Jon Bon Jovi, Celia Cruz, Whitney Houston and Hoboken’s own Frank Sinatra. Bruce Springsteen, an obvious choice, declined the offer. These contemporary names replace such former honorees as Thomas Edison, Alexander Hamilton and Joyce Kilmer.
Connie Chung is the only other TV star to make the grade. The former Brookdale South stop salutes the renowned broadcast journalist, a longtime resident of Middletown. Gandolfini’s service area, only about three miles from his hometown of Park Ridge, had been called the Montvale stop.
“Jimmy would be honored and amused. The rest stop is a stone’s toss from where we grew up,” says Gandolfini’s lifelong friend Karen Duffy, the author, producer and TV personality known as “Duff” during her years as an MTV VJ in the ’90s. “He was proud of his roots, and I love that our grea tstate is honoring him. My one regret is that the rest stop doesn’t serve food from our old favorite places — Casa Del Sole and Marcy’s Pizza!”
Dining options at the James Gandolfini Service Area include Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and Auntie Anne’s pretzels. Each rest stop is slated to have a display dedicated to its namesake’s career. Gandolfini was a shoo-in for the honor, says Steve Edwards, president of the New Jersey Hall of Fame. “He reached the pinnacle of his profession. He was one of the greatest actors of his generation, a Rutgers graduate and a humble man who never forgot his New Jersey roots.”
Aida Turturro, who played Tony Soprano’s sister Janice, says that while she thinks the distinction is “really cool,” it might have made her tough-guy friend blush.
“I think Jimmy would be a little embarrassed by it. He wasn’t someone who wanted to be a celebrity. He was shy and just wanted to do his work. But those who liked the show will love this. People in New Jersey feel like he was one of the family. With this rest stop, he lives on.”
Better there than the Bada Bing!, capisce?