Actor Tony Sirico, best known for his memorable turn as mobster “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri in “The Sopranos,” has died at age 79, his manager told CBS News on Friday.
“A great, loyal customer,” wrote manager Bob McGowan. “He would do anything to help those in need.”
McGowan gave no cause of death.
McGowan also sent CBS News a Facebook message from Sirico’s brother, Robert Sirico, who wrote that he announced Sirico’s death “with great sadness, but with incredible pride, love and many fond memories.”
Sirico was born in Brooklyn in 1942. According to his IMDB profile, he first appeared on screen in 1977 and became known years later for his roles in such films as ‘Goodfellas’. But his big break came in “The Sopranos,” where he played “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, a fiery, loyal, and crabby soldier of New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini. The wisecracking Walnuts were violent and often ruthless.
In a 2019 interview with the cast, Sirico said that David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, was so impressed with his audition for another role, that of an 80-year-old man, that Chase created the character of Paulie Walnuts especially for created him. †
“When I initially auditioned for David, he looked at me and said, ‘sit over there.’ He put a hat on me. The lines were, ‘these kids today.’ I play an 80-year-old man,” Sirico said.
Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti in “The Sopranos,” honored Sirico on Instagram. “Tony was like no other: he was as tough, as loyal and as generous-hearted as anyone I’ve ever known,” he wrote.
“I will miss him forever,” wrote Imperioli. “He is really irreplaceable.”
Actress Lorraine Bracco, who co-starred with Sirico in both “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos,” also paid tribute on Friday, calling him “a stand-up guy who was always behind me and loved my kids and my parents.”
“I hope he’s in heaven now and terrifying everyone,” she added. “I love you, my friend … rest in peace.”
Sirico is survived by his two children, Joanne Sirico Bello and Richard Sirico, as well as grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and many other relatives, Sirico’s brother said.
While the family asked for privacy, Sirico’s brother said donations could be sent to Wounded Warriors, St. Jude’s Hospital and the Acton Institute.