Real-life dramas whack 'Sopranos' cast

Divorce, custody fights, controversy, crime touch stars of popular HBO mob drama

— Are "The Sopranos" cursed?

The actors who play the goombah gangsters seem to have been hit lately with malocchio, Italian for "evil eye."

The HBO series that made celebrities of well-regarded but previously obscure actors such as James Gandolfini and Edie Falco has cast a harsh � and unwelcome � spotlight on their personal lives.

And recently, the show, which has long been criticized by Italian-American groups for pushing stereotypes, got unwanted attention when the Columbus Day Parade organizers banned "Sopranos" stars Lorraine Bracco and Dominic Chianese.

Bob Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, dismissed any talk of a "Sopranos" curse.

"This show is under a microscope more than ever because it's getting unbelievable ratings," Thompson said. "And when you get a cast as big as 'The Sopranos,' things about the actors are bound to come out � not all of them good."

Tell it to Gandolfini, the guy who plays Tony Soprano.

Last week, the tough-guy actor was whacked with allegations by his soon-to-be ex-wife, Marcy, that he would go on binges where he would "do drugs with various bimbos."

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AP File Photo

Members of the cast of "The Sopranos" are experiencing some real-life drama of their own, including Lorraine Bracco, above, with flower in lapel. Bracco was involved in a custody battle with her former husband, Harvey Keitel.

Never mind that this was, in the words of Gandolfini flack Dan Klores, "a problem that existed in the past."

Gandolfini is by no means the only actor on the show whose private problems have become public fodder.

Falco, who plays Tony Soprano's wife, Carmela, gets agitated on the show from her sister-in-law Janice. In real life, it's her brother Paul who gives her heartburn. He recently was arrested on Long Island on charges of smacking around his partially blind fiancee and threatening her with a butcher knife. The wedding was called off.

Before Bracco became famous playing Tony Soprano's therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, she was involved in a custody battle for her daughter, Stella, that was uglier than anything the "Sopranos" writers have dreamed up.

Stella's dad is actor Harvey Keitel. When Bracco married actor Edward James Olmos, Keitel claimed Olmos had molested a pal of Stella's. A judge reserved judgment on the abuse claim but ruled that Olmos was not to be left alone with Stella. The judge also questioned Bracco's parental skills and suggested Keitel enlisted Stella to smear Olmos. Olmos filed for divorce from Bracco this year after acknowledging the couple's problems began in 1997.

Tony Soprano's TV son, A.J., was nailed as a pot-smoking thug. The teen actor who plays him, Robert Iler, tried his hand at thuggery last year when he and two pals armed themselves with box cutters and held up two 16-year-old boys on the East Side. A police officer testified Iler had a hot pot pipe and a bag of marijuana in his pocket when he was caught. Iler, who is 17, cut a deal to dodge the big house and was sentenced to three years' probation.

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