When death calls, it carries a message

On a mob drama, the "whacking" - a messy, dramatic assassination - is the equivalent of a bloody exclamation point.

Published April 1, 2007

On a mob drama, the "whacking" - a messy, dramatic assassination - is the equivalent of a bloody exclamation point.

According to the fan site Sopranos.com, 65 of the show's characters so far have gone to that great Bada-Bing! in the sky, by means as diverse as garroting to a severe bowel movement.

Mark Winegardner, the Florida State University professor who wrote two sequels to Mario Puzo's The Godfather, describes the perfect Sopranos death as quick and brutal.

"The ones that get built up over several episodes feel more (artificial) than the ones that just come out of nowhere - boom! - the person is dead."

Even by Winegardner's exacting standards there are five deaths that stand out as classic Sopranos hits.

Eric Deggans

5. Silvio Dante kills Adriana La Cerva.

From the moment Soprano family lieutenant Christopher Moltisanti's well-meaning girlfriend started spilling her guts to an FBI agent, her end was inevitable. Still, the whacking, when it came in Season Five, was as operatic as a scene from The Godfather. The event resonates this season, as Carmela Soprano remains suspicious about Adriana's disappearance.

4. Ralph Cifaretto kills his stripper girlfriend Tracee.

Actor Joe Pantoliano played Cifaretto like a charming sociopath, never more so than when he beats his pregnant girlfriend to death in a strip club parking lot. So powerful it sparked protests from women's groups, the scene still brings jeers from women on the street, Pantoliano says.

3. Tony Soprano kills Ralph Cifaretto.

This murder showed what these guys really care about. Tony Soprano was upset about the stripper's murder, but he didn't kill Cifaretto and stuff his head in a bowling bag until he was convinced his rival had killed a race horse he loved. The fight scene - in a kitchen! - was one of the show's best.

2. Janice Soprano kills Richie Aprile.

This one came out of nowhere, as Janice Soprano grabbed a pistol and capped boyfriend Aprile for daring to slap her. Besides providing an unexpected end to one of Tony Soprano's chief rivals, it backed up the show's central theme: Tough as the Soprano men are, their women are even deadlier.

1. Tony kills Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero.

There had been more than 20 murders onscreen by the time Bonpensiero went to sleep with the fishes at the end of Season Two. But this was the first time a member of the family's inner circle was whacked (for turning FBI informer). Tony had to cope with the agita of killing his best friend. Viewers got a different message: No one was safe.