I grew up in a little town in northern New Jersey called Park Ridge. It's not even really a town -- it's a borough, which basically means it's really small. My graduating class from Park Ridge High School was 78 people, and the entire school only had a total of 500 students in grades 7-12. I knew everyone in my class by name and went to elementary school with half of them. When I was a kid, we never locked our doors because not a lot happens in Park Ridge.  I lived there until I was 15, when my family moved to Raleigh.

I didn't know that James Gandolfini was from Park Ridge until after The Sopranos blew up in popularity! I never met him or saw him in town, but there is an autographed picture from him on the wall of The Ridge Diner in Park Ridge.

Of course, in the final scene from The Sopranos, Tony and his family meet at Holsten's Brookdale Confectionery in Bloomfield, N.J. Since his death, people have been flocking there. For his role as Tony Soprano, he won three Emmy Awards for "Best Actor in a Drama", and Entertainment Weekly listed him as the 42nd Greatest TV Icon of All Time.

Gandolfini was born in Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood, N.J., and he attended Park Ridge High School, where he played basketball and acted in school plays. You can see him mentioned in the school newspaper below. He graduated in 1979 and was awarded the title of "Class Flirt."

The Owl (Park Ridge High School Newspaper- June 1978)
James Gandolfini (PRHS Yearbook- Facebook)
James Gandolfini (PRHS Yearbook- Facebook)

Something I didn't know was that Gandolfini was a big supporter of the armed forces. His father, James Joseph Gandolfini, Sr. was from Italy and earned a Purple Heart in World War II. In 2007, Gandolfini produced a documentary with HBO focused on injured Iraq War veterans called Alive Day: Home From Iraq. It featured 10 surviving soldiers who were interviewed by Gandolfini and talked about their thoughts and challenges they face integrating back into society and family life.

*NSFW -- Video contains graphic footage and language*

A lot of people have asked me where the opening sequence for The Sopranos was filmed since I'm a Jersey girl born and raised. I know I have seen some of the places, but I didn't know their names until I found the below website.

James Gandolfini passed away at 51 years of age after going into cardiac arrest in Rome, Italy on June 19. I didn't know him, but I was a fan. My thoughts are prayers are with his family and friends.