Tony Sirico, known for playing mobster Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri in “The Sopranos”, died on Friday. He was 79 years old.
Paulie Walnuts, the funny and explosive acolyte of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), known for his scathing lines, is no more. His charismatic performer, Tony Siricohas indeed died this Friday, July 8, a sad news confirmed by his manager to Variety.
It was in 1974 that the actor made his screen debut as an extra in the mafia drama “Crazy Joe” alongsideHenry Winklera film that preceded his countless future roles as gangsters and criminals, Freedmen (1990) by Martin Scorsese at Gunshots on Broadway (1994) by Woody Allen. The actor has appeared in several of the latter’s films, including Cursed Aphrodite (1995) or even Coffee Society (2016). Her most recent screen appearance was in two episodes ofAmericanDad! in the skin, again, of a gangster named Enzo Perotti.
But before shining on the sets, Tony Sirico led a life very different from that of Hollywood glitter. Born Gennaro Anthony Sirico Jr., on July 24, 1942, to an Italian family in New York, he spent most of his youth in trouble with the law and was associated with the real Colombo crime family. Arrested 28 times – first at the age of 7 after stealing money from a newsstand – he was imprisoned twice, charged with possession of an illegal weapon and then with armed robbery.
In 1989, the comedian discussed his criminal past and the impact it had on his life philosophy in the documentary The Big Bang of James Toback. The following year, he confided again on this subject to the LA Times. “I was very unstable. I didn’t think like it should. So I met these guys and all of a sudden I was a thief. I’ve stolen from every nightclub in New York.”
“I have to admit I feel funny when someone recognizes me and asks me for an autograph“, he continued. “I think it’s that old guilt. Maybe I feel like I don’t deserve this attention.”
Called a “very loyal and wonderful customer” who “always helped people in need” by his manager Bob McGowan, Sirico appeared in all six seasons of Sopranoafter having first auditioned for the role of Uncle Junior, finally assigned to Dominic Chianese. But he nevertheless made a lasting impression on the public in the skin of the now iconic Paulie Walnuts. In an Instagram post, Michael Imperiolithe interpreter of Christopher Moltisanti in the series, also spoke in a long dedicated post.
“It pains me to say that my dear friend, colleague and brother in arms, the great TONY SIRICO passed away today. Tony was unlike anyone else: he was as tough, as loyal and generous as anyone I’ve known. I have been by his side for so many things: through the good times and the bad. But especially the good ones. And we laughed a lot.”
He continued: “We had found a rhythm as Christopher and Paulie and I’m proud to say I did a lot of my best and most fun 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.”
Tony Sirico is survived by his two children, Joanne Sirico Bello and Richard Sirico, as well as his grandchildren and other family members.