Tony Sirico, the actor best known for playing mobster Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri on “The Sopranos,” died Friday, Variety confirmed with his manager. He was 79 years old.
Virico’s Paulie Walnuts, an explosive and fiercely funny foot soldier in James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano with one-liners like no one else, was a “Sopranos” scene-stealer from the start. Sirico balanced Paulie’s menace with his deadpan humor and penchant for malapropisms, once calling Sun Tzu “Sun Tuh-Zoo”, later referring to the philosopher as the “Chinese Prince Matchabelli”. Sirico appeared on all six seasons of “The Sopranos,” after auditioning for the role of Uncle Junior. Dominic Chianese finally won this part.
Born Gennaro Anthony Sirico Jr. on July 24, 1942, to an Italian family in New York, Sirico spent much of his youth in trouble with the law and was associated with the real Colombo crime family. He was arrested 28 times – first at the age of seven after stealing nickels from a newsstand – before becoming an actor. He went to jail twice, once after being charged with possession of an illegal weapon, and once for armed robbery.
“I was very unstable,” Sirico told the LA Times in 1990 of this period of his life. “I didn’t think well. So I met these guys and all of a sudden I became a catchy artist. I went to every nightclub in New York.
“I have to admit, I feel funny when someone spots me and asks for an autograph,” he continued. “I think it’s that old guilt. Maybe I feel like I don’t deserve attention.
He made his acting debut as an extra in the 1974 mafia drama “Crazy Joe” alongside Henry Winkler. This film predated Sirico’s countless subsequent roles as mobsters and criminals, from Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” in 1990 to Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” in 1994. Sirico appeared in a number of films from Allen, including “Café Society” in 2016 and “Mighty Aphrodite” in 1995.
In 1989, Sirico appeared in the documentary “The Big Bang”, in which he discussed his criminal past and how it affected his philosophy of life. In 2013, he appeared in a few episodes of “Family Guy” as the voice of Vinny Griffin, the family dog. His most recent acting appearance was in two episodes of “American Dad” as a gangster named Enzo Perotti.
Sirico’s manager, Bob McGowan, called him a “very loyal and wonderful customer” who would “always help people in need.” He was one of the wounded warriors.
In an Instagram post, Sirico’s ‘Sopranos’ co-star Michael Imperioli wrote, “It pains me to say that my dear friend, colleague and partner in crime, the great TONY SIRICO passed away today. Tony was like no one else: he was as tough and as loyal and as big-hearted as anyone I’ve ever known. I was by his side through so much: through the good and the bad times. But mostly good. And we laughed a lot.
He continued: “We found a rhythm as Christopher and Paulie and I’m proud to say that I did a lot of my best and funniest work with my dear friend Tony. I will miss him forever. He is truly irreplaceable. Sending love to his family, friends and many fans. He was loved and will never be forgotten. Heartbroken today.
On Facebook, Sirico’s family wrote that they were “deeply grateful for the many expressions of love, prayer and condolences and ask the public to respect their privacy during this time of grief.”
According to his family message, Sirico is survived by his two children, Joanne Sirico Bello and Richard Sirico, as well as grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and other relatives.
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