As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history,
the more that fact and legend become intertwined.
It's hard to say where the truth really lies.
June 19, 2013
James Gandolfini, TV's Tony Soprano, dies at 51
On this day in 2013, James Gandolfini, the actor best known for his role as crime boss Tony Soprano on the TV series "The Sopranos," which debuted in 1999 and ran for six seasons, dies of a heart attack while vacationing in Rome, Italy. He was 51.
The son of working-class parents of Italian descent, Gandolfini was born on September 18, 1961, in Westwood, New Jersey, and graduated from Rutgers University in 1983. Afterward, he worked as a bartender and club manager in , drove a delivery truck and studied acting. He made his film debut in 1987’s low-budget "Shock! Shock! Shock!" and went on to play supporting character roles in such movies as "True Romance" (1993), "Get Shortly" (1995) and "The Juror" (1996).
Gandolfini shot to stardom in the groundbreaking HBO drama "The Sopranos," which centered on the violent, complicated Tony Soprano. Gandolfini's portrayal of the brutal mobster, who lives in the New Jersey suburbs where he deals with ordinary family issues and sees a therapist after suffering from panic attacks, earned him three Emmy Awards for outstanding lead actor in a drama. Critics called Tony Soprano one of the greatest TV characters of all time, and by the show's final season Gandolfini was being paid a reported $1 million per episode. Additionally, "The Sopranos" was credited with paving the way for edgier TV shows and flawed leading characters such as corrupt detective Vic Mackey on "The Shield," school teacher-turned-meth dealer Walter White on "Breaking Bad" and cynical, philandering adman Don Draper on "Mad Men."
After "The Sopranos" ended in 2007, Gandolfini acted on Broadway, appeared in movies including "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012) and produced several documentaries about injured American military veterans. Following Gandolfini's June 2013 death, the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, ordered all state government buildings to fly their flags at half-staff for a day in honor of the popular Garden State native.
June 20, 1948
Toast of the Town premieres.
Ed Sullivan's long-running variety show premieres. Although later known simply as The Ed Sullivan Show, the series debuts as Toast of the Town. Among the many performers who made their TV debuts on the show were Bob Hope, Lena Horne, the Beatles, and Walt Disney. Elvis Presley also made several high-profile performances on the show, in 1956 and 1957. The show ran until 1971.
June 22, 2008
Stand-up comedian, writer and actor George Carlin dies of heart failure at the age of 71.
Born in New York City, Carlin dropped out of high school and joined the Air Force. While stationed in Shreveport, Louisiana, he got a job as a radio disc jockey; after his discharge, he worked as a radio announcer and disc jockey in Boston and Fort Worth, Texas. Carlin and his early radio colleague, Jack Burns, formed a moderately successful stand-up comedy duo, appearing in nightclubs and on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. They soon parted ways, and Carlin made his first solo appearance on The Tonight Show in 1962. Three years later, he began a string of performances on The Merv Griffin Show and was later hired as a regular on Away We Go, 1967’s summer replacement for The Jackie Gleason Show. Carlin cemented his early career success with the release of his debut comedy album, the well-reviewed Take-Offs and Put-Downs, that same year.During the late 1960s, Carlin had a recurring role on the sitcom That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas, and made numerous TV appearances on shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Seeking to make a leap into big-time stardom, the relatively clean-cut, conventional comic reinvented himself around 1970 as an eccentric, biting social critic and commentator. In his new incarnation, Carlin began appealing to a younger, hipper audience, particularly college students. He began dressing in a stereotypically “hippie” style, with a beard, long hair and jeans, and his new routines were punctuated by pointed jokes about religion and politics and frequent references to drugs.
Released in 1972, Carlin’s second album, FM/AM, won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording. A routine from his third hit album, Class Clown (also 1972) grew into the comic’s now-famous profanity-laced routine “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” When it was first broadcast on New York radio, a complaint led the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ban the broadcast as “indecent.” The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld the order, which remains in effect today. The routine made Carlin a hero to his fans and got him in trouble with radio brass as well as with law enforcement; he was even arrested several times, once during an appearance in Milwaukee, for violating obscenity laws.
More popular than ever as a countercultural hero, Carlin was asked to be the first guest host of a new sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live, in 1975. Two years later, he starred in the first of what would be 14 comedy specials on the cable television station HBO (the last one aired in March 2008). Carlin had a certain degree of success on the big screen as well, including a supporting role in Outrageous Fortune (1987), a memorable appearance in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and a fine supporting turn in the drama The Prince of Tides (1991). More recently, he played a Roman Catholic cardinal in Kevin Smith’s satirical comedy Dogma (1999).
Though a 1994 Fox sitcom, The George Carlin Show, lasted only one season, Carlin continued to perform his HBO specials and his live comedy gigs into the early 21st century. He also wrote best-selling books based on his comedy routines, including Brain Droppings (1997), Napalm & Silly Putty (2001) and When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? (2004). According to his obituary in the New York Times, Carlin gave his last live comedy show in Las Vegas just weeks before his death.
To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".