News Column

Flags Fly at Half-staff for Gandolfini

June 24, 2013

Andrew Seidman

Gov. Christie has ordered American and New Jersey flags to be flown at half-staff on Monday in recognition of the death of James Gandolfini, the actor who portrayed the notorious mobster Tony Soprano on television.

Gandolfini, 51, died Wednesday in Rome from a heart attack.

In an executive order issued Friday, Christie called Gandolfini an "iconic actor" who "left a timeless impact upon television and film" as New Jersey organized-crime boss Tony Soprano in the HBO series The Sopranos.

Described by Christie as a "New Jersey treasure," Gandolfini was born in Westwood, grew up in Park Ridge, and graduated from Rutgers University.

The governor also noted that Gandolfini produced two documentaries about the challenges facing veterans reintegrating into society.

The last person for whom Christie lowered the flag was Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, who died at age 89 on June 3.

Gandolfini is not the first celebrity to win the half-staff honor under Christie. Usually reserved for military personnel, police officers, and public officials, Christie has also lowered the flag for Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and singer Whitney Houston.

The governor faced a social-media uproar in February when he honored Houston, who lived in Christie's hometown of Mendham, with critics charging that a pop star who struggled with drug abuse should not be granted the same honor bestowed upon a fallen service member.

Similarly, some complained on Twitter on Saturday that an actor did not deserve the honor.

"There are many contributions that you can make to our state that merit this honor upon your death," Christie said at a February news conference defending his decision. "Some of them are political. Some of them are military. Some of them are other avenues of public service, like police officers, firefighters, and others. And some of them are cultural."

In January, Christie appeared on the cover of Time magazine underneath the headline "The Boss," and the accompanying caption described him as the "master of disaster." When Christie saw the cover, he said he thought it made him look like Gandolfini's character.

Contact Andrew Seidman at 856-779-3846, aseidman@phillynews.com, or @AndrewSeidman on Twitter.

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