Colleagues reminisce about a star who was 'a man of the people'
The funeral for James Gandolfini Thursday was a reunion of sorts, if an unhappy one, for people who worked on one of television's most famous shows.
For those who worked behind the scenes on "The Sopranos," it was a time to not only recall a sterling star, but to reminisce about an era that for many was a highlight of their lives.
"The Sopranos" was "like no other show I've ever worked on and [Gandolfini] was one of the most amazing guys I've ever worked with -- a real man of the people," recalled Phil Purifacto, 41, who worked as a grip on the show.
Gandolfini's almost pathological generosity was remarkable, said the Howard Beach resident. Not only did he slam down his credit card to pay for drinks or meals, but he bought 150 to 200 watches for the entire crew, Purifacto said. "That was his wrap gift! Most people give us T-shirts," or a similarly modest trinket to thank the behind the scenes people. "Every Friday, his guys would come in and bring sushi tables. I'd never had sushi before!," Purifacto recalled, jocularly blaming the star for passing on "expensive tastes."
Hans Mooy, 55, who worked as Gandolfini's stand-in, recalled when the two went to Graceland and employees there offered to give Gandolfini a VIP "star tour and show him where Elvis passed away," in a bathroom.
"I don't want to see that," Mooy remembered the star saying.
But the employees explained they just wanted to extend him a courtesy because "we think you're bigger than Elvis," Mooy said. Not only did such flattery fail to inflate his ego, but Gandolfini took turns driving, and chose Paul Simon's album, "Graceland" to play on their trip, Mooy said.
After the Graceland visit, "we drove back to The Peabody Hotel [in Memphis] and watched the ducks" that swim in the lobby fountain there, said Mooy, who works as an architect and lives in Nashville.
"I'll remember most how kind he was," said Gerry Mauriello, 63, a retired Newark police officer who provided security on the show. "What really, really sticks in my head was at the end -- I think we were at the Bada Bing -- he hugged me and said, 'Thank you, Gerry!' I was a low man on the totem pole," but Gandolfini made him feel valued, said Mauriello.