I don't recall that I ever met Gandolfini, though we may have been present at one or more HBO events over the past couple of years (those are large gatherings), but I was huge admirer of his acting. THE SOPRANOS was "must watch TV" for us every year it was on. A terrific show, with a terrific cast... Gandolfini first and foremost among them. It was the show that redefined drama on television, proving once and for all the audiences would gladly follow a flawed, grey, violent character, provided he was interesting enough. A ground-breaking show, an important show, it helped define HBO's "brand," and set the tone for many of the great HBO dramas to follow, including DEADWOOD, ROME, THE WIRE, BOARDWALK EMPIRE... and GAME OF THRONES.
Gandolfini was a fellow Jersey boy and Jets fan as well.
A huge talent. I never knew him, but I will miss him all the same.