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Tony Sirico, Star of ‘The Sopranos,’ Dead at 79

Actor’s portrayal of Paulie Walnuts — a no-nonsense mobster with distinctive silver wingtips and a wry sense of humor — made him a beloved figure to fans of the groundbreaking TV series

Kat Bouza Jul 09, 2022

Actor Tony Sirico attends the premiere of 'Bad Apple' on February 10, 2003, in New York City. Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Actor Tony Sirico, best known for his portrayal of the wise-cracking Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri on The Sopranos, has died at the age of 79.

“It is with great sadness, but with incredible pride, love and a whole lot of fond memories, that the family of Gennaro Anthony ‘Tony’ Sirico Jr. wish to inform you of his death on the morning of July 8, 2022,” a post from Sirico’s brother, Robert Sirico, on Facebook read. A Warner Bros. spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the post to Rolling Stone. “The family is deeply grateful for the many expressions of love, prayer and condolences and requests that the public respect its privacy in this time of bereavement,” Sirico wrote.

As news of Sirico’s death broke, many of his Sopranos co-stars shared tributes to the beloved character actor.

“We found a groove as Christopher and Paulie and I am proud to say I did a lot of my best and most fun work with my dear pal Tony,” Michael Imperioli, who played young upstart Christopher Moltisanti on the hit TV series, wrote in a post on social media. “He was beloved and will never be forgotten.” Fellow Sopranos cast member Joe Pantoliano also paid tribute to the late actor. “Tony Sirico was an original in every way,” Pantoliano said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “How he made me laugh.” Actor Steve Schirripa remembered Sirico as a devoted friend to all who knew him. “Tony Sirico was one of a kind in all the best ways,” he said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “A truly loyal friend with a gift for making people laugh, especially me. If you were lucky enough to be his friend, you were guaranteed a good time whenever you were around him. He will be missed.”

In a statement to Rolling Stone, Edie Falco also paid respect to her Sopranos co-star. “Tony Sirico was an original,” said the actress, who played Tony Soprano’s wife, Carmela Soprano. “There was no one like him; deeply loyal and kind. And so funny. It’s a heartbreaking loss.”

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“I have never been able to walk into a room that you were in without you giving me an enormous hug, drenching me in your cologne, and making sure I knew any man that came near me would have to answer to you first,” Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who played Meadow Soprano, said of Sirico on Instagram. “You were SUCH a phenomenal actor. Stealing every scene you were in. You were tough, and strong, yet sweet and a real artist. There will never ever be anyone like you.”

“Tony Sirico was one of the kindest, fiercely loyal, and heartfelt men that I’ve ever known. He was always Uncle Tony to me, and Tony always showed up for me and my family,” Michael Gandolfini, son of Sopranos star James Gandolfini — and who recently portrayed a younger version of the character his late father made famous in The Many Saints of Newark — wrote in an Instagram post. “I’ll deeply miss his pinches on my cheek, and his infectious laugh. He was a phenomenal actor and an even better man. Tony was one of a kind. He touched many with his gift and my heart goes out to his family, his friends, and all of his fans. We love you Tony, thank you for all the joy you brought to many. You will be missed.”

Born July 29, 1942, Sirico grew up on the mean streets of Brooklyn and was a self-described “rough-and-tumble kid,” he told Rolling Stone in a 2001 cover story. A devotee of James Cagney movies, the young Sirico found himself drawn to the gangsters he’d see in his neighborhood. “They’re all dressed, slicked back, they got cars, they got girls, very enticing,” he said. “I got close to making a huge mistake… I almost got too close to becoming one of those guys I portray.” Noticing Sirico had issues with authority, a friend refused to sponsor him for membership. “The good thing I had going for me not being involved profoundly with wiseguys was that I don’t like anybody telling me what to do.”

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Still, Sirico had his fair share of brushes with the law. He had a bullet wound in his leg after he was spotted kissing a girl that had broken the shooter’s heart. (In true Paulie Walnuts fashion, Sirico told Rolling Stone of the incident, “At the time, all I thought about was, ‘Fucking ruined my white suit.’”) Before embarking upon his acting career, he was arrested 28 times and spent two stints in prison. “I got 28 arrests and only two convictions, so you gotta admit I have a pretty good acting record,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1990.

Sirico was inspired to pursue acting in the early Seventies while in prison after a visit by an acting troupe composed of ex-criminals. After a series of bit parts, he eventually landed roles in major films including GoodfellasMighty AphroditeThe Pick-up Artist and Casino.

Throughout his acting career, however, Sirico found himself playing the very men he admired as a youth. “And do I mind being stereotyped? Absolutely not,” he told Rolling Stone in 2001. “I’ve paid my rent, I take care of me and Ma.” He found fans in his neighborhood, who were tough guys as well. “They love me for being in this show,” Sirico said of his role in The Sopranos.  “I’m still part of their family in their hearts. They know I’m a stand-up kid, whether I’m a tough guy or not.”

From Rolling Stone US.

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