James Gandolfini once screamed and cursed at a wounded vet and the man’s mother thanked The Sopranos actor for it. Though, it took a toll on him.
Gandolfini was visiting Walter Reed military hospital during the height of The Sopranos’ popularity, Yahoo said. He wanted to speak to injured troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and thank them. He’d recently produced the HBO documentary Alive Day Memories, which follows the lives of soldiers who lost a limb in combat as they return home.
In one room at the hospital, a mother was reading to her son who’d suffered a traumatic brain injury. The mom smiled when she saw the actor. Sheila Nevins, the former head of documentaries for HBO, was with Gandolfini on the trip.
“Oh, my son loves you,” Nevins recalled her saying. “He thinks you’re the best; he just loves everything you do. She said ‘Talk to him. Tell him to get better.'”
Nevins said it was clear the man wasn’t going to get better. But James Gandolfini obliged.
“You get better,” he told the soldier. “Your mother is really reading to you and loves you, and you’re a great hero.”
“No, not that way, really talk like you are,” the mom cut him off. She wanted Tony Soprano, not James Gandolfini. So, he slipped on the New Jersey accent and laid into him like a gangster.
“Listen, you motherf*****g piece of sh**, you get your f****** act together,” he yelled, Nevins recalled. “You don’t let your mother suffer after all she gave you, you piece of sh**.”
The mom thanked him, and he signed something for her. But after Gandolfini walked out of the room, he collapsed into tears.
“His heart was in these wounded guys,” Nevins said. “I don’t know why, but he felt like one of them.”
James Gandolfini Worked Often With Wounded Warriors Project
James Gandolfini died in 2013 after suffering a heart attack while in Rome on vacation with his kids. During his life, he worked frequently — and often quietly — with the Wounded Warriors Project. The group helps injured soldiers reintegrate back into society after returning home.
The Wounded Warriors started the James Gandolfini Award in his honor only a few days after he died. It goes to someone “in the public eye who exemplifies the values of WWP just as he did,” a 2013 press release about the award says. Mark Wahlberg won the award in 2015.
But the group didn’t have to look far to choose the first recipient. Tony Sirico, who played Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri on The Sopranos was surprised with the award at a banquet honoring the late actor. Sirico went to Army hospitals and visited troops along with James Gandolfini as well as on his own, Variety reported.
“We play tough guys in the movies, but these are the real guys,” Sirico said, breaking into tears. “These are the guys that keep us safe. I love them. I love every one of them. When I meet them, I’m all over them, whether they like it or not, my hands are on them.”