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June 21, 2013

Gandolfini's sudden death hits home

(Continued)

Gandolfini was interviewed by WZOZ staff during visits, said Jennifer Insetta Pajerski, who at the time worked for the radio station. Gandolfini seemed embarrassed by his fame, she said.

“He wanted to come and mingle and just be Jim,” she said. “He was a really great guy.”

Current contact information wasn’t available for Griffiths.

Joe Ruffino Jr. of Ruffino’s Pizzeria said at first he thought Griffiths was joking when he said he would stop by with Gandolfini. But the actor appeared and joined family members for photographs.

Ruffino said he remembered about three occasions Gandolfini visited. Colleagues from “The Sopranos” and other HBO programs also visited Oneonta and Vines.

“It was really cool being able to hang out with people you watch on TV,” Ruffino said.

Gandolfini was boisterous, with a down-to-earth personality, Ruffino said.

“He was as warm as he was big,” Ruffino said. For a while, when a stretch limousine was downtown, people would call Ruffino’s to find out if Galdolfini was visiting.

Ruffino said he suggested callers check with Vines.

Antonio Avanzato, co-owner with his brother, Vincenzo, of Stella Luna, said Griffiths visited their Market Street restaurant several times before opening Vines. One night, Gandolfini was with him, “Tony” Avanzato said, and the wait staff recognized the actor immediately.

Avanzato said he hadn’t watched any of the “The Sopranos” episodes and he cautioned his staff to “let the man have dinner” or face being fired.

“You don’t understand, this guy is an icon,” Avanzato said his staff replied. “I didn’t understand.”

Gandolfini, who noticed people recognizing him, did have an opportunity to enjoy his steak, wine and later, a cigar in the restaurant’s smoking room, Avanzato said.

The Stella Luna owners offered to help the Vines owners make a connection with their beef supplier, Avanzato said. When Gandolfini consulted their drink list and asked about a $6 scotch, Avanzato replied that the local market wouldn’t bear charging $10 to $15 for a standard scotch.

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