The 82-year-old star was preparing for a speaking engagement in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, when his daughter, Sarah, called him with the news that Gandolfini had died of cardiac arrest in Italy.
Chianese explained, “I heard it from my daughter and she was crying. I am not going to cry, but I went into a real blue funk and I realized… Jimmy was thoughtful, caring. Working with him was a real joy.”
The veteran actor said the two kept in contact over the years, sharing a recent story. “We were in Italy… at this gorgeous hotel. I was kind of lonely, I walked out on the balcony and I turned to the right and there was this guy in his underwear smoking his cigar. We both laughed. Jimmy was a funny guy, very focused, great sense of humor, loved people, genuine man. Every time he saw me he would kiss me on top of the head. Those are the memories.”
Chianese added, “We honor the dead by living well, and Jimmy is an inspiration in many ways. I’m here in Washington to speak and I know his spirit will be right by me.”
Chianese was in the nation’s capital to speak about his organization, Joy Through Art. Gandolfini was one of the people responsible for helping Chianese fund the foundation, though Gandolfini wanted to remain anonymous while he was alive.
“Extra” caught up with Dominic Chianese, who played Tony Soprano’s irascible Uncle Junior in the hit HBO series, and the actor paid his respects to James Gandolfini.