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Tributes Pop Up Across New Jersey In Honor Of Garden State Native James Gandolfini

Hometown Remembers James Gandolfini As 'Regular Kid'

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BLOOMFIELD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — All across the Garden State on Thrusday people were paying their respects and remembering New Jersey native and former star of “The Sopranos” James Gandolfini.

Gandolfini died in Italy on Wednesday after suffering a heart attack. He was 51.

There was a touching tribute to the late actor at the Bloomfield ice cream shop where Gandolfini and the rest of “The Sopranos” cast filmed the final scene of the Emmy Award winning show in 2007.

The owner of Holsten’s placed a “Reserved” sign on the table where Tony Soprano sat with his family during the much-debated and unforgettable finale. Flowers and Thursday’s copy of the Newark Star-Ledger were also placed on the table.

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“He was a great guy when he was here filming and I felt just for the type of person he was, we would close the booth off in memory of him,” owner Chris Carley said.

“Everyone’s heartbroken that he’s no longer with us,” co-owner Ron Stark told 1010 WINS.

“He was really nice to my partner and I. He took pictures with our families and signed stuff and was very approachable,” Carley told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell. “Mr. Gandolfini was great. When he wasn’t shooting, he was outside and he’d have a big cigar. He’d be fooling around with some of the guys on the crew.”

Some customers made a special trip to the ice cream parlor as a tribute to the actor.

“He’s so New Jersey, he seemed to epitomize so many things that really captured New Jersey,” said Marnie Lamberson.

“I was kind of in the area. I figured I’d come by and get a burger, take a look and get a bag of onion rings for Tony,” customer Scott Milligan told Haskell. “I’m devastated.”

“I loved James Gandolfini. He was a fellow countryman, a Paisano, Jerseyan and he was iconic and we were really just so proud of him,” Bloomfield resident Linda Seville told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan.

Seville said she always made sure to stop by the Jersey spots “The Sopranos” made famous. The thing she remembers most is Gandolfini’s humility despite his huge success.

“My husband was working in a school and he made a surprise visit there and people were totally out of their mind when they saw him. It was just such a surprise,” she said.

Others at Holsten’s on Thursday reflected on the star and the iconic show.

“The ending where everything just faded to black. This was the show that ended off with nothing,” Bloomfield resident Dan Koziupa told Sloan.

On Wednesday night, after receiving news of the actor’s death, the restaurant also played “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey — the song that was used in the final scene of the hit series.

The restaurant’s owner said Gandolfini didn’t break character on the day of the series finale shoot.

“Even when I was talking to him behind the the grill, once he got going he was Tony Soprano for that day,” Stark told Sloan. “I was very upset when I first found out. I just turned 50 and he’s 51. It makes you think.”

To this day, Holsten’s is a stop on “The Sopranos” New Jersey tour.

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Fans of  the show also paid respects over a single candle at the fictional Sopranos home in North Caldwell, N.J.

“It brought a lot of families together on Sunday nights,” fan Dave Norton told CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis. “I know my family, we did — we got together on Sunday nights, had dinner, and watched the show.”

The owner of the home, Patty Recchia, was paying her respects, too.

“My husband did a great job building that house, and this house, and ‘The Sopranos’ put it on the map, so I’m happy about that,” she said.

Manhattan’s Little Italy is also paying tribute to Gandolfini’s iconic portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano.

A photograph of the actor and a simple message of condolence — “RIP James Gandolfini” — is on display in front of the Mulberry Street Bar.

The 100-year-old restaurant was used as a backdrop for scenes in “The Sopranos.”

But as CBS 2’s Sloan reported, Gandolfini’s character didn’t come without controversy.

Some Italian-Americans didn’t like the stereotypical way they were being portrayed on the small screen.

“Everybody loved him. Unfortunately for us, he was too good at his craft and that image is hurting us. But putting that aside, we’re really sad that this young man has passed away,” Emanuel Alfano with the Italian-American One Voice Coalition told Sloan.

Although the world knew him as Tony Soprano, those in his hometown knew Gandolfini simply as “Jimmy.”

He was born in Westwood, N.J. on Sept. 18, 1961, grew up in Park Ridge, attended Rutgers University and worked as a bartender and a nightclub manager before starting his acting career in the New York theater.

People in Park Ridge remembered Gandolfini as a regular kid who played basketball and came from humble beginnings, the son of a building maintenance chief at a Catholic school and a high school lunch lady.

“Everybody thinks here’s this really famous, special guy, but he was just a regular kid,” Gandolfini’s high school geometry teacher, John Millard, told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. “He always had really strong Park Ridge roots.”

Before he was Tony Soprano, Gandolfini was the lead in productions of “Kiss Me Kate” and “Can Can” at Park Ridge High School.

“And what a great voice!” said former Park Ridge theater teacher Ann Comarato, who currently teaches in Glen Rock. “He’s nothing like Tony Soprano. He had to work with a dialect coach. He didn’t speak that way. His sense of humor was wonderful. Very kind. Very gentle.”

She did admit that he had at least one thing in common with the fictional mob boss.

“I did have to talk to him about using the F-word during rehearsal and when he received the role of Tony Soprano, he told me ‘I want you to watch this and count how many times I say this word in the show. But they’re paying me to do it,'” she told Adams.

She said his high school buddies remained his closest friends.

“He always stayed connected. So, I mean, just very humble, very giving of his time and very connected to the people that knew him and loved him as Jimmy. I mean, he’s Jimmy to us,” she said. “He was so grounded and I credited his parents with that.”

She said that every year, Jimmy would return home to help a local breast cancer fundraiser, standing for hours letting people get their photo taken with him.

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