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Gandolfini popular as Las Vegas visitor


In his three set-in-Las Vegas roles, actor James Gandolfini played a homosexual hit man, mob boss-in-meltdown Tony Soprano and a pompous casino owner in a blond toupee.

He will be remembered here for so much more.

Gandolfini died Wednesday in Italy at 51 of a heart attack.

During his Las Vegas visits, the closest Gandolfini came to his much-feared character in “The Sopranos” was in November 2005 at Pure nightclub at Caesars Palace.

He had gone to his room when an angry pal called to say their party was losing the primo table they had in the club.

Gandolfini stormed down to the club and had a run-in with security. But Tony Soprano lost that one. Hotel executives needed the table.

A year earlier, Golden Nugget owners Tim Poster and Tom Breitling pulled off a coup, getting the entire cast of “The Sopranos” to pose for photos with some high rollers. Las Vegas photographer Denise Truscello was setting up the shoot, moving chairs around, when Gandolfini approached her with a big smile.

“Melina, what are you doing here?” Gandolfini said.

He had mistaken Truscello for Greek actress Melina Kanakaredes.

There was no mistaking the star power of “The Sopranos.”

When Gandolfini went swimming at the Golden Nugget pool, he and the boys got their welcome-to-Las Vegas from a group of females who flashed them.

Before filming started in 2012 for “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” Gandolfini had meetings with local casino executives Felix Rappaport and Kenny Epstein and magicians Criss Angel and Nathan Burton.

Fellow “Soprano” and Vegas insider Steve Schirripa had set up the meetings so Gandolfini could soak up some local knowledge.

Soon after, Rappaport, then president of The Mirage, received a Brioni tie and handkerchief from Gandolfini.

Philanthropist Larry Ruvo also met Gandolfini and gave him a tour of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Afterwards, Gandolfini asked Ruvo what he could do to help. Just show up for Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday party, said Ruvo, who built the event into the gala Keep Memory Alive Power of Love fundraiser for the center.

Gandolfini sent a silent auction item, a bowtie given to him by Frank Sinatra.

Three days before the event, Gandolfini called with bad news, saying he had blown out a knee and his doctor told him not to travel, Ruvo recalled.

A day later, Gandolfini was back on the phone.

“He said, ‘I’m a tough guy. Save me a seat,’ and he took a five-hour limo ride here.”

Aided by a cane, Gandolfini hobbled down the red carpet.

“What a genuine good guy,” an emotional Ruvo said.

THE SCENE AND HEARD

The photo of Rick Harrison of “Pawn Stars” was mistakenly used in Wednesday’s column instead of his father Richard “Old Man” Harrison.

SIGHTINGS

Former ESPN sideline reporter Jenn Brown, tweeting that she arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday. Shortly after checking into an unidentified hotel, Brown tweeted a let’s-get-together invite to former colleague Samantha Steele Ponder, wife of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. The Ponders are Vegas-bound as well. Brown dined at Culinary Dropout at the Hard Rock Hotel. ... Ray Romano and Brad Garrett, catching up at The Act (Venetian) on Wednesday. ... Perry Farrell, frontman for Jane’s Addiction and founder of Lollapalooza, dining at Comme Ca (Cosmopolitan) on Wednesday. He was at the hotel for the EDMbiz conference.

THE PUNCH LINE

“Germany is mad at the United States for the NSA eavesdropping. This, ladies and gentlemen, from the country that gave us the Gestapo.” — David Letterman

Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or email him at norm@reviewjournal.com. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke. “Norm Clarke’s Vegas,” airs Thursdays on the “Morning Blend” on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.