Thursday, June 20, 2013
The tributes are pouring in for actor James Gandolfini, who died Wednesday at age 51. Many of them are from wounded veterans and service members, with whom Gandolfini worked closely.
Upon learning of Gandolfini's death, quadruple amputee Staff Sgt. Travis Mills and his wife posted on Facebook:
"We are so saddened to hear of the passing of James Gandolfini! He was a great man and huge supporter of our military."
The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team shared via Facebook:
"RIP WWAST supporter James Gandolfini. Great actor and friend to our organization."
After visiting troops in Iraq as part of a USO tour, Gandolfini became inspired to produce two documentaries for HBO about wounded warriors, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The first, Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq, premiered on September 9, 2007. Gandolfini interviewed Iraq War veterans about their experiences in combat. (You'll find an interview NBC's Brian Williams did with Gandolfini about the film at the bottom of this post.)
The second was a documentary about the history of combat-triggered post-traumatic stress disorder in the United States. Wartorn:1861-2010 was co-directed by Jon Alpert, who told The Daily Beast in 2010 why he believed veterans were willing to open up their hearts to Gandolfini:
“People feel like they know him.First of all, he’s very sincere in his concern. Second, he’s been in their living rooms every Sunday for five years. He portrays a big tough guy who was psychologically wounded by the things he’s had to do and he’s seen. As a result of that, they’re ready to talk. From the lowest ranking service member to the top generals, they opened up very quickly to him.”
Gandolfini's connection with the military seeped into his acting career, too. One of his final roles was as CIA director (and later Defense Secretary) Leon Panetta in the movie Zero Dark Thirty.