The HBO show’s writer and exec producer, David Chase, introduced the inaugural James Gandolfini Award at the Wounded Warrior Project’s second annual Carry Forward Awards on Oct. 10. The organization helps injured vets readjust to civilian life and the ceremony honors heroes who make that transition possible. Fellow “Sopranos” stars Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Lorraine Bracco, Vince Curatola and Sharon Angela were there as Tony Sirico was surprised with the first annual Gandolfini award.
“Some of (the ‘Sopranos’) are here tonight,” Chase said upon taking the stage at Club Nokia at L.A. Live. “I’m really glad you are because I’m really nervous. I like to be surrounded by tough guys.”
Chase recalled his late friend’s advocacy work with the Wounded Warrior Project and the two documentaries he produced, “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq” and “Wartorn: 1861–2010” about injured Iraq War vets and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, respectively. In lieu of flowers, Gandolfini’s family had asked that donations be made to WWP during his funeral service.
“He just didn’t recognize limits,” Chase said about Gandolfini. “He was willing to risk everything to give the maximum in his daily work: bodily safety, fatigue, his dignity. He would do a bunch of horrible things we asked him to do. And I wouldn’t say he never complained. He complained all the time and he fought all the time, but he always wound up doing it.”
Gandolfini’s assistant, Thomas Richardson, said in a tribute video that the actor cared more about his roles in the lives of his loved ones than his roles on screen.
“As fantastic as an actor as he was and as smart a filmmaker as he was, it really was as a person that he was the best,” Richardson said. “I don’t think he wanted to be remembered as Tony Soprano or a famous person or a personality. I think he would like to be remembered as someone who helped people.”
Gandolfini’s wife Deborah Lin, sister Johanna Antonacci and son Michael Gandolfini (the winner of the James Gandolfini look-alike contest, as Chase referred to him) stepped on stage to present the last award of the night to Sirico.
“We play tough guys in the movies, but these are the real guys,” an emotional Sirico, who was completely caught off guard by the prize, said. “These are the guys that keep us safe. I love them. I love every one of them. When I meet them, I’m all over them, whether they like it or not, my hands are on them.”
Tracy Keilwas among last night’s six honorees. She was recognized for her work as a caregiver and an advocate. Aside from helping local wounded veterans, she cares full time for her husband, who was injured in Iraq six weeks after their weeding. He’s now a quadriplegic.
“It was just such a good feeling to know that all of the people that I’ve helped over the last seven years are the ones that voted for me,” Keil said on the purple carpet before the event. “I’m glad that I have made a lasting impact on their lives and that’s all I really wanted to do was help them in some way.”
Aidan Hughes, Fred Kane, Joan Mehew and Joan Mehew rounded out the awardees.