Remembering ‘Johnny Cakes’ of The Sopranos

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WITH THE DEATH of John Costelloe, the actor who played Jim “Johnny Cakes” Witowski on The Sopranos, fans of the landmark TV series (1999–2007) lost an important player in the show’s most gay-positive, and perhaps most crucial, story line. The 47-year-old actor and former New York City firefighter shot himself late last year in his basement bedroom in Brooklyn. At the funeral mass on Christmas Eve, costars Steve Buscemi and Joe Gannascoli (who played the lovable Vito Spatafore with whom Costelloe shared a number of love scenes) were in attendance. “I enjoyed all the time I ever spent with him,” Gannascoli told The New York Post (12/25/08). In a remarkable case of art imitating life, in the 2006 episode entitled “Johnny Cakes,” Vito falls not only for the pancakes that make Jim a local favorite—“fucking delicious,” sighs Vito—but also for Jim’s heroic deeds as a volunteer fireman. In exchange after exchange with Gannascoli, Costelloe brought a warmth and sincerity seldom seen within the cruel and criminal vortex that is The Sopranos. His other contribution to the series is that Johnny Cakes will remain the only male extramarital lover (or goomah) kept on the side by one of Tony Soprano’s crew.

Sadly, Costelloe’s death coincides with the release of The Complete Sopranos (from HBO Video), a 33-disc box-set that spans all six seasons and all 86 episodes. (Given the $200 price tag, though, a more frugal alternative might be to purchase the final season Johnny Cakesalone, still sold separately.)

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