HBO's The Sopranos ended its 8-year-run Sunday with the New Jersey gangster very much alive, eating onion rings with his family while "Don't Stop Believin'" played on a restaurant jukebox.
And despite fan predictions, there was no bloodbath, no redemption, no closure – only Brooklyn mob boss Phil Leotardo met a gruesome demise, in a gas station parking lot.
Fans were almost unanimously outraged by the ending. Among the posts on the HBO message boards, Mamamia22 writes: "These characters deserved to go out with a bang and this finale was pathetic." Seconds Bergin77: "There should be some sense of closure and a tying of loose ends. Last night's ending left too many questions unanswered."
But one person, at least, was pleased: "It's very calming to move on," James Gandolfini, 45, who played Tony Soprano since the show's 1999 debut, told the Associated Press last week. "The character has been with me for so long, it's a relief to let him go. "
Fans eager for photos leapt off low cement walls for a better shot and local media rushed past the velvet ropes to surround cast members. Ventimiglia, who played Artie Bucco, even had his sunglasses stolen right out of his suit pocket. "Whoever took my sunglasses, c'mon," he said, then sighed, "Well, what're you gonna do?"
Inside, the venue was decorated like an Italian wedding, with gold and maroon swags hanging from the ceilings and 12-foot blueberry tree with fresh-baked cannolis tied to the branches. The menu included classic Sopranos-style meals – chicken scarpariello and risotto with truffles and champagne.
Imperioli, who played the doomed Christopher Moltisanti, told PEOPLE he didn't know what was next for him: "I don't think you can top this. You just go on," he said. "The reality is setting in; it's bittersweet."
Asked if he'd saved anything from the set, he said: "I have the hat that I died in." On a similarly morbid note, Schirripa (Bobby Bacala, murdered in a hobby shop) admitted: "I kept my train hat," while Bracco (Dr. Melfi) said, "I kept my chair from the office."
Reporting by DEBI SPRINGER