Just as Tony Soprano had a soft spot for animals – he enjoyed feeding the wild ducks who gathered in his swimming pool and was devastated when his beloved racehorse was killed in a stable fire – James Gandolfini, the actor who so memorably portrayed him on “The Sopranos,” was also an animal lover.
Gandolfini, whose sudden death yesterday has shocked and saddened people around the world, was a dedicated dog dad to Duke, a rescue.
“I would see him getting coffee with his dog,” Sara Mattler, who regularly encountered Gandolfini and Duke at the Beach Street Eatery in New York City, told WNYC. “He was always so sweet with his dog, and made sure the dog had water while he ran in on a hot day.”
Gandolfini’s doorman, Luis Rodriguez, was teary-eyed as he told the New York Times that when the generous and unpretentious actor returned home after walking his dog, he would often surprise him with gifts ranging from snacks to $100 bills.
“James Gandolfini takes his dog for a walk and abides the city law of properly disposing of his pet’s droppings but fails to keep his dog on a leash, also per New York City law,” the caption reads.
Two months later, PEOPLE published a photo of the same dog sitting next to Gandolfini in the passenger seat of his car, with the caption, “You lookin’ at me? Former ‘Sopranos’ patriarch Gandolfini drives his dog around N.Y.C. on Wednesday, before stopping by a SoHo café for a bite.”
Appropriately enough, the last movie Gandolfini made is titled “Animal Rescue.” It’s a crime drama that revolves around the rescue of a lost Pit Bull. Gandolfini plays a bartender who befriends the rescuer, played by Tom Hardy.
“I visited the set of ‘Animal Rescue’ in March,” wrote Steven Zeitchik in the Los Angeles Times. “I wasn’t lucky enough to be there when Gandolfini was working. But you could feel the buzz in the air, both from the other actors and the crew, who were describing a man more gentle and down to earth than the Tony Soprano-type they imagined. Apparently, when lunch was called, he didn’t retreat to his trailer like so many other actors but sat with the grippers and gaffes, talking about everything under the sun, including dogs, a big theme in the film.”
Gandolfini’s affection for dogs is obvious in this YouTube video uploaded in 2010 by mikethefanboy. The actor cuddles a fan’s small dog in his arms outside the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, after a performance of “God of Carnage.”
“He’s fluffy!” exclaims the portrayer of Tony Soprano, with a huge smile.