Minutes after James Gandolfini fans learned of his death in Rome, they flocked to the New Jersey diner featured in the iconic final scene of the "The Sopranos" to pay tribute to the 51-year-old actor.
Holsten's Brookdale Confectionery in Bloomfield, N.J., was the setting where fans said goodbye to the hit HBO series while the Soprano family feasted on onion rings. While many frustrating fans were left wondering what happened to Tony when the scene abruptly cut to black, the moment has arguably become one of TV's greatest moments.
Chris Carley, owner of Holsten's, said Gandolfini was a down-to-earth man when the cameras stopped rolling during the season finale.
"One night he brought sushi in for everybody. It was very nice," Carley told ABC News station WABC-TV.
A plaque sits at the table with the inscription, "This booth reserved for the Soprano family."
A reserved sign sits at the head of the table in Gandolfini's memory.
Fans exchanged stories at the diner Wednesday night about the series that kept them glued to their TV screens for six seasons from 1999-2007.
"I grew up in the area around here so I have a lot of sentimental feelings about it," fan Chad Hines told WABC. "I just felt the urge to come out here and take in the moment."
Gandolfini was a New Jersey guy born and bred. He was born Sept. 18, 1961, in Westwood, N.J., and his interest in theater began while he attended Park Ridge High School. At Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., he studied communications and graduated in 1983. He was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2004.
The three-time Emmy winner was an outspoken booster for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team. Gandolfini was even featured in commercials for Rutgers, along with then-football coach Greg Schiano.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie released a statement, praising the actor for being a "true New Jersey guy."
"I was a huge fan of his and the character he played so authentically, Tony Soprano," Christie said. "I have gotten to know Jimmy and many of the other actors in 'The Sopranos' cast and I can say that each of them are an individual New Jersey treasure. [His wife] Mary Pat and I express our deepest sympathies to Mr. Gandolfini's wife and children, and our prayers are with them at this terrible time."
Gandolfini, an Italian-American, was born to play the role of Tony Soprano that brought him icon status in the 86 episodes of the series. The Tony Soprano character redefined the mobster stereotype for a new audience.
Soprano was a conflicted mobster caught between his mob family and home life, all while confiding in a therapist. New Jersey was the backdrop for all of it.
Gandolfini expressed his love for the Garden State to the Newark Star-Ledger in a December 2012 interview.
"It's basically a middle-class, working-class state, so you have normalcy, that foundation of a regular outlook on life," he said. "That's why a lot of people who come out of New Jersey are successful, you know, they can look at things from a lot of different ways. I think it's an exceptional place to grow up. But then I'm totally, completely biased."
The Star-Ledger also happened to be the same paper Tony Soprano picked up at the end of his driveway in many episodes.
In 2004, "Inside the Actors Studio" host James Lipton asked Gandolfini, "What would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?"
"Take over for a while. I'll be right back," Gandolfini replied.Also Read