Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
James Gandolfini may be best known for playing the larger-than-life character Tony Soprano on the acclaimed HBO series, but in his quaint Manhattan neighborhood, the 51-year-old who died suddenly on Wednesday is being remembered as an unassuming, friendly guy who walked his beloved pooch through the streets of Tribeca each morning.
Sara Mattler, 32, said she works in a building owned by Gandolfini and saw him every day at the small Beach Street Eatery where two photos of the "Sopranos" star hang on the wall.
"I would see him getting coffee with his dog," she said. "He was always so sweet with his dog, and made sure the dog had water while he ran in on a hot day."
She added: "I work with a bunch of girls, it was always, 'Hi girls, how are you?' Just a nice neighborhood person, who happened to be famous."
A memorial of candles, flowers and Season 3 of the Sopranos sprouted up alongside his Greenwich Street home in TriBeCa as mourners and neighbors stopped by to pay their respects.
Malcolm Andrew, a 55-year-old carpenter in Lower Manhattan, was among them. He remembered being stunned when he was approached by Gandolfini.
"He's asking me what I'm doing... 'What's going on today?' I wasn't approaching him, [trying to] show some sort of respect, but I thought it was nice that he's approaching me," Matthew said.
Gandolfini and his wife, Deborah, were married in 2008 and have a daughter, Liliana, who is eight months old.
Rosalie Acinapura, 69, lives a few blocks away and said she often sees Deborah walking the family's dog in the morning: "She was so happy when they had a child," she said, "and now that child won't know him, which is very sad."