ELIZABETH, N.J. (AP) — A bag of uncooked ziti in the driveway, a "reserved" sign at the ice cream parlor booth where the series abruptly ended, and a framed photo at a strip club were among the tributes paid to James Gandolfini in the northern New Jersey communities where his TV character Tony Soprano lived, loved and whacked people.
The star of the HBO series about a mob boss with anxiety issues and a midlife crisis died Wednesday night in Italy of an apparent heart attack.
In neighborhoods where "The Sopranos" was shot, Gandolfini was recalled Thursday with mixed emotions: a global star who made their communities famous, but sometimes at the expense of their reputations.
Vito Mazza, who was busily preparing for an Italian-American festival in Elizabeth this weekend, said the actor had local credibility.
"He was as Jersey as it gets, through and through," he said.
The "Sopranos" star was born and raised in New Jersey and attended Rutgers University. His character has become an indelible part of the state's global image, as much a part of New Jersey culture as tolled highways, smokestacks and crooked politicians.
Pete Canu, a limousine fleet owner who was sipping coffee in an Elizabeth butcher shop Thursday morning, said Tony Soprano was very realistic.
"He had frailties and failings; he was human, aside from all that gangster crap," Canu said. "A lot of people were offended by it. They say it makes it look like all Italian-Americans are mobsters, but people know we're not. We're just hardworking people who get up every day and do our jobs and provide for our families. It was just a TV show."
But the butcher shop's owner, John Sacco, said "The Sopranos" spread negative stereotypes about Italian-Americans far and wide.
He said when he went to a dentist in Florida and when he revealed he was from New Jersey, someone in the office said, "Oh, the place with all the mobsters!"
"It didn't show us in a real great light," he said.
At Satin Dolls, the real-life Lodi strip club that served as the fictional Bada Bing club in the show, employees put a framed photo of Gandolfini where he frequently sat, calling it "the boss's seat."
"It's like we lost a member of the family," spokesman Bill Pepe said. "Everybody is shocked."
Paul Pereira, of Lodi, stopped to put flowers on a sign in front of the club. He said the show gave a more nuanced picture of people involved in or somehow connected to the mob.
"It showed that these are real people, family people," Pereira said. "You notice that every episode ended with him with his family."
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