Sopranos star James Gandolfini will reign as celebrity monarch Bacchus during the 2007 carnival season in New Orleans.
Gandolfini, who filmed scenes in the city for his role in the movie All The King’s Men, plays Tony Soprano, the head of a New Jersey crime family, in the TV drama.
“He fell in love with our city and he wants to do a lot to help us get back on our feet,” Pip Brennan, captain of the Krewe of Bacchus, said.
Most Mardi Gras Carnival groups, known as krewes, select members of New Orleans society as their kings or queens.
New Orleans’s signature celebration will have 31 parades over 10 days, compared with 28 parades in eight days in 2006, just months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. The Bacchus parade will be the evening of February 18, two days before Mardi Gras.
Bacchus, founded in the late 1960s, was one of the first carnival organisations to open participation to tourists and others from outside the New Orleans area.
It introduced spectacular floats much larger than those in traditional carnival parades, and it was the first to choose a national celebrity to lead its parade.
Danny Kaye was the first Bacchus in 1969. Other celebrities include William Shatner, Billy Crystal, Bob Hope, Michael Keaton, Nicolas Cage, John Lovitz, Jim Belushi, Kurt Douglas, Charlton Heston, Ron Howard, Jackie Gleason and Raymond Burr.
The Bacchus krewe now has more than 1,000 members and parades with more than 30 animated floats along historic St Charles Avenue and through the city’s business district.
Besides New Orleans, parades and balls also take place in other former French colonial communities across the Gulf Coast, including Biloxi, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama.
The carnival season traditionally begins in New Orleans with the elaborate ball of the Twelfth Night Revellers on January 6 and ends at midnight on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) as Lent begins.
Krewe members pay for the cost of their parades and balls. Attempts in recent years to secure corporate sponsorship of some carnival festivities have met with little success.