The late James Gandolfini, best remembered as mob boss Tony Soprano on The Sopranos, was also known as a sweetheart off-screen. To this day, his co-stars from the HBO drama have only the nicest memories of Jimmy. But for those who never met him, it can be a surprise to see images of a notorious tough guy from TV acting like the warm, silly, loving dad he really was.
For example, you may have stumbled upon some photos of him with SpongeBob SquarePants.
Any one of these images is a delight; what now seems to be driving the conversation is just how often Gandolfini clowned around with SpongeBob. You can see from his clothes that these are different occasions, which has led to jokes about the pair’s enduring friendship. Especially at a time when the rich and famous are struggling to explain why they posed for photos with Jeffrey Epstein or Ghislaine Maxwell, his alleged co-conspirator in a massive sex-trafficking operation, it does the heart good to find something so unexpectedly wholesome in the archives.
As to the reason for this longstanding proximity to SpongeBob — besides a sheer love for the character that any rational person would appreciate — it turns out to be more evidence of Gandolfini’s reputation as a stand-up guy. In his lifetime, he supported quite a few charities, including groups focused on education, cancer research and veterans. All of the SpongeBob pics, when you look them up on Getty Images, turn out to be from an annual event called Dream Halloween, which Gandolfini attended for a number of years with his wife and son. (You’ll see that the family is sometimes in costume as well.)
The benefit is a collaboration between Children Affected by AIDS Foundation (CAAF) and Keep a Child Alive (KCA), geared toward kids and put on to raise money for children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. Other photos show that Gandolfini gave remarks at these events alongside other celebrities, including Jon Bon Jovi.
Of course, the connection may go even deeper: Gandolfini and other Sopranos actors once reunited for the 2013 TV movie Nicky Deuce, produced by Nickelodeon, home of SpongeBob. Gandolfini also appeared on Sesame Street in 2002, when his son Michael was a toddler. SpongeBob SquarePants debuted the year Michael was born. It seems safe to say that Jimmy’s affinity for kids’ programming and cartoon characters had a lot to do with just trying to be a good dad.
So there you have it: the reason we keep finding “new” photos of James Gandolfini and SpongeBob together is that he was just a damn decent human. Miss you forever, king.