Those Who Want Respect, Give Respect: ‘The Sopranos’ Star Michael Imperioli Pays Tribute to James Gandolfini

by Josh Lanier

It’s been eight years since James Gandolfini died while on vacation with his family in Italy. The Sopranos star was only 51 years old. He would have turned 60 Saturday. And one of his former co-stars memorialized him not just for the long shadow he cast across all of television, but because he was a good friend.

Michael Imperioli, who played the hot-tempered Christopher Moltisanti on The Sopranos, posted an emotional memorial to Gandolfini on Instagram this weekend.

“Dear Jim, Today marks 60 years since you came into this world. As fate would have it, I am in Rome, the city where you left this world. I will think of you today as I wander these ancient streets. I will remember the laughs most of all. Today I am reminded how fortunate I am to have acted beside you more than I ever did (or ever will, most likely) with anyone else. What a privilege. Thank you for the friendship, generosity, and kindness. Love always, Michael.”

Gandolfini died of a heart attack on June 13, 2013, after spending the day wandering those same ancient Roman streets as Imperioli. The Sopranos mob boss was sightseeing with his family in the hot summer sun. His son found him unconscious on the bathroom floor of his hotel room later that night. Doctors pronounced him dead of a heart attack shortly after they rushed him to a hospital, The Hollywood Reporter said.

‘Sopranos’ Stars Got So Drunk on Set Crew Chained Them to a Tree

Often when filming an episode of The Sopranos, the cast would have a lot of downtime. In one particular Season 4 episode, the director asked James Gandolfini and Michael Imperioli to wait around in their trailers for several hours until nightfall. Their gangster characters were going to throw a body off of a cliff in the scene and they needed it dark.

It had been a stressful week, so Gandolfini broke open a bottle of Wild Turkey while they waited. He and Imperioli passed it back and forth in the hours leading up to filming. They were having fun unwinding, but maybe too much fun. Because when it was time to start shooting, the bottle was empty.

The crew worried that their now-drunk actors would stumble and fall off the cliff along with the fake body. So, they improvised.

Imperioli explained what happened next on an episode of his podcast of Talking Sopranos.

“Finally someone knocks on the door because it’s time to shoot and the bottle’s empty,” he continued. “We stumble out of Jim’s trailer. We’re plastered. We drank a whole bottle of Wild Turkey. We’re bombed. We’re stumbling to the cliff and we have to get to the edge to throw the body. We were too drunk to notice if anyone was annoyed, but they were worried we would fall off this cliff. They took chains and wrapped them around our ankles and tied them to a tree and covered it with leaves.”