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James Gandolfini was 'the glue that kept us together,' says lifelong friend Karen Duffy

Jimmy and I grew up together. We were friends since seventh grade and we went to a small high school in New Jersey. It was impossible not to love this kid. He was voted Best Looking and Class Flirt. Girls loved him because he was beautiful, inside and out. He was a great athlete and we did the plays together. Jimmy was quiet in person but explosive on stage. In my yearbook, he kind of wrote something like, “Duff, I’ll see you on Broadway.”

Fairly quickly out of college, he was working in the city and immediately started getting acting work. That was kind of just when I started modeling, and I was on MTV when he was on Broadway in A Streetcar Named Desire. Serendipitously, Jimmy and I ended up living next door to each other in the Village, so we never have not been in touch. We’ve shared experiences and milestones in our lives, so I remember him sitting on his stoop having coffee and telling me he was going to be a father for the first time.

What was so great was that he always felt connected and responsible and deeply loyal to the people he grew up with. If you were a friend of Jim’s, he remained not just friendly, but an actively engaged friend. He made an art of friendship. When I was going through my illness, he was incredible supportive. Always the first thing that he said when we saw each other was, “How you feeling? How’s your kid?” He remembered your kid. He remembered your family.

I remember going with him to the first ever Sopranos premiere at John’s Pizza, and Jimmy invited all of his buddies from high school. He was like that. He would never say, “No” to a friend. A lot of the crew on The Sopranos were friends from high school. When he first had some success, I remember him saying to the fellas, the buddies he was hanging around with, he was like, “We’re good now.” It was always him taking it for the team. READ FULL STORY

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