Tony Sirico, a New York-born tough guy character actor best known for his role as Paulie Walnuts on “The Sopranos” as well as his work in “Goodfellas” and several Woody Allen films, has died. He was 79.
Sirico’s passing was announced by his “Sopranos” co-star Michael Imperioli, who wrote on his Instagram that he died on Friday. No other details were provided. Sirico’s manager also confirmed to TheWrap that he died on Friday while in an assisted living home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big hearted as anyone i’ve ever known. I was at his side through so much: through good times and bad. But mostly good. And we had a lot of laughs,” Imperioli said of Sirico. “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. I will miss him forever. He is truly irreplaceable. I send love to his family, friends and his many many fans. He was beloved and will never be forgotten. Heartbroken today.”
Sirico appeared in 74 episodes of “The Sopranos” as Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualateri, one of Tony Soprano’s chief henchmen known on the show for his loyalty but also his impulsive and violent behavior. Sirico upon auditioning for David Chase’s show originally went for the Uncle Junior role, but he agreed to play Paulie under the condition that he would never “become a rat.”
Sirico though had a troubled past as a real-life tough guy, telling the Los Angeles Times that as a young man before turning to acting he was arrested 28 times, starting when he was 7 years old for “stealing nickels from the newsstand.” He would eventually serve two prison stints, where he met an acting troupe of ex-cons and was encouraged to give acting a shot.
True to his roots, Sirico frequently played gangsters on screen, including in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” and films like “Mob Queen,” “Cop Land,” “Bullets Over Broadway” and more recently in Woody Allen’s 2017 film “Wonder Wheel.” Though he told the Los Angeles Times that he’s “no (obscenity) Laurence Olivier,” he throughout his career shared the screen with actors such as Gabriel Byrne, Dennis Hopper and Harvey Keitel.
Sirico had numerous other television roles dating back to the late ’70s and ’80s, including “Kojak,” “Miami Vice,” “Chuck,” “Medium” and the TV film “Gotti.” He also had a series of episodes as the voice of Vinny Griffin on “Family Guy,” or the dog who would replace Brian Griffin after the character’s death.
Sirico along with the cast of “The Sopranos” twice won the Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.