PARK RIDGE - Some of James Gandolfini's earliest ties to New Jersey were in Park Ridge, where he graduated high school. On Thursday, the 85 students from the class of 2013 remembered one of their most beloved alums.
Residents who knew the "The Sopranos" actor say he was often seen around town, and never forgot his roots.
Christie Brunetto says Gandolfini's sister is her Godmother. She grew up across the street from the man who would become Tony Soprano and remembers him fondly. "He was just cute with curly hair," says Brunetto. "He was just really sweet. Really nice."
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Tributes from around the state have poured out since the news of Gandolfini's death Wednesday. Pizzaland in Kearny, famous for its dollar slice, but also for being included in the opening credits of the iconic drama, displayed a memorial in the window.
Employee Dave Cifelli crafted the display that drew mourners and memories. "The fact that people still come here eight years later compelled me to do this," Cifelli says.
Gandolfini was mentioned by the principal during the Park Ridge High School ceremony Thursday. Active in a Park Ridge-based breast cancer research foundation, he had attended annual fundraisers, often bringing members of his old "The Sopranos" cast.