06/26/2013 05:00 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2013

The Passing of a Great Italian-American Artist

Arguably one of the greatest actors of our time died on last Thursday. James Gandolfini was an acquaintance of mine. Larger than life, he created characters that were real and wasn't afraid to show himself -- warts and all. I write now as someone who has had an Italian last name my whole life. I grew up in the small town of Flint, Michigan where there were almost no other people of italian descent. When I arrived in NYC in 1979, it was very accepted in the media and in the art community to be Italian American.

Prior to The Godfather in 1971, there were few Italian role models in the media. The Godfather was the first time I had seen an Italian man presented in the media. I was happy. That film led to an explosion of movies about and by Italians and Italian Americans -- like Fellini and Scorsese. They helped me develop into a man, by showing me male role models some of which were evil.

In the eight years that The Sopranos was on, I never missed an episode. I ended up watching each one twice. I enjoyed it so much because it brought the horrors of the mob in the open. It showed that these many brutal tragedies are so harmful to our community -- Italian American men harming other Italian Americans. That has been the horrible secret of the mob since its beginning in Sicily. I think it was helpful for our community to see these stories told through such wonderful writing and storytelling. The fact, that I have been a 26-year friend of Edie Falco, knowing her from the famous West 4th Street Saloon, made it all the more possible for me to identify with the characters in the show. I found it therapeutic. I found it brilliantly written. I also found the story development, by Chase, to be the finest TV ever done.

When James died, I teared up. I was very sad. A great artist has passed -- someone who was totally honest and fearless in presenting his art. I was very proud that he too was Italian American.