Whenever I hear about a TV star or writer about my age kicking the bucket, I always look first to see what they died of. Then I usually sit back, and think about what effect they had on me. When I saw where James Gandolfini died it was no different. For me, he will always be Tony Soprano. I have been taking about 6 months to work through the series on Comcast. I have to take it a bit slower than I did the Dexter series. The reason for that is that unlike the strange reality that is Dexter, the Sopranos is more entertaining and horrible because it interleaves the painful ordinary with the stark awfulness of the gangster lifestyle. Much or all of it's success was what Mr. Gandolfini brought to the table. It also meant that that like Wil Wheaton (an admittedly weak comparison), he was going to have a very hard time filling any other acting role. That he died of a heart attack is almost a cliche.
His early death and manner of death is something a metaphor for the warning that the series itself has for folks of my age. Sometimes it is too easy to slip into the the daily grind and not look out beyond the next day or year. From what I see on the series, while 'Tony' had all the hot women, money, and booze he could drink, he would keep loosing sight of the five year plan and instead concentrate on the 'fix' the stuff that was up close and now. I suspect that Mr. Gandolfini, like many actors, may have had similar issues in real life. While we are amused by the life and antics of guys like William Shatner, you can't help but admire what he has done with his 'post famous' lifestyle. There's a guy with five year plans extending out to his post century mark, and no lack of self admiration.
More important than having a five year plan, there is the enjoying the moment that lets one find themselves worthy of such things. That I suspect is the real rub with this stage of life. Loosing the joy of life is to lose the will. In that there lies an early grave and a lesson for us all.