When Carnegie Mellon University graduate Michael Kobold and the late actor James Gandolfini first met in 2002, it was a phone conversation out of Abbott and Costello. Mr. Kobold, then the sole employee of Kobold Watch Co., picked up the line at his office in Robinson.
Mr. Gandolfini said he wanted to buy a luxury timepiece. Mr. Kobold assumed the unpolished-sounding man was a police officer; cops were eligible for a 20 percent discount.
No, the man said, he was an actor: "There is an HBO show called 'The Sopranos.' There is a big fat guy, and I am the big fat guy."
Mr. Kobold, who didn't watch much television and had never heard of the hit show, drove up to New York City a few days later.
When they finally met in person, on set at Silvercup Studios in New York City, he announced, "I am Michael Kobold, the watchmaker. You're not nearly as fat as I thought you would be."
"I am James Gandolfini, the actor. You are a lot younger than I thought you would be," Mr. Gandolfini said.
It was, as they say, the start of a beautiful friendship. Mr. Gandolfini was later featured in an advertisement for the company.
"My friend Jim was a giant in many ways," Mr. Kobold told Forbes magazine Thursday morning from Rome, where Mr. Gandolfini died Wednesday. "His heart was huge and made of gold, and he needed that great body of his to carry it around. No words can express my sadness and that of my family." He is supporting the Gandolfini family and serving as its spokesman.
According to Forbes, Mr. Kobold is the godfather of Mr. Gandolfini's daughter and made the arrangements for the repatriation of the actor's body.
When news emerged of Mr. Gandolfini's apparent heart attack, tributes began flowing freely. David Chase, who created "The Sopranos" in 1999 and gave the 51-year-old actor his first big break and signature role, called him "a genius" in a statement.
"Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. ... For [his wife] Deborah and [children] Michael and Liliana, this is crushing. And it's bad news for the rest of the world.
"He wasn't easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can't explain and never will be able to explain."
There were other poignant gestures across the country, including at Holsten's restaurant in Bloomfield, N.J. A "reserved" sign was placed on the table used in the final scene of "The Sopranos."
Before he became one of the biggest stars on television, Mr. Gandolfini came to Pittsburgh to shoot "Money for Nothing," a 1993 film starring John Cusack. It's the real-life story of a Philadelphia man who finds $1.2 million that tumbled out of an armored truck bound for Atlantic City.
Mr. Gandolfini played Billy Coyle, brother to Mr. Cusack's Joey Coyle. At the time, he'd made about two dozen movies, mostly playing bit character parts as working stiffs or tough guys. And yes, he even played a cop.
Maria Sciullo: email@example.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG. First Published June 20, 2013 2:45 PM