A painful goodbye. Tony Sirico, who was known for playing Paulie Walnuts 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 wishes to inform you of his death on the morning of July 8, 2022,” the actor’s family told Deadline in a statement on Friday, July 8. A cause of death was not immediately revealed.
Sirico’s manager, Bob McGowan, also confirmed the news to In Touch, saying: “Tony was a loyal client for 25 years, ex-army vet, always gave to charities and a member of the Wounded Warriors.”
The actor’s former Sopranos costar Michael Imperioli paid tribute to Sirico via Instagram, writing: “It pains me to say that my dear friend, colleague and partner in crime, the great TONY SIRICO has passed away today. 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.”
The White Lotus star, 56, added that the duo “found a groove” working together during their time on The Sopranos, which ran on HBO from 1999 to 2007. “I am proud to say I did a lot of my best and most fun work with my dear pal Tony,” he continued. “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.”
Lorraine Bracco, who appeared on the show as Dr. Jennifer Melfi, echoed Imperioli’s sentiments in her own Instagram post, sharing a throwback photo of herself enjoying a laugh with Sirico.
“I adore Tony Sirico,” she wrote. “A stand up guy who always had my back and who loved my children and my parents. I have a lifetime of memories with Tony — starting with Goodfellas to The Sopranos and way beyond — but my God, did we have fun doing the Bensonhurst Spelling Bee — I’m still laughing. I hope he’s in heaven cracking everybody up now. Love you, my Pal … rest in peace.”
Sirico’s Sopranos character, Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, was a loyal henchman for mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). Though the show was known for its unflinching depiction of violence, Sirico became a fan favorite for adding moments of humor throughout the grim drama.
Born on July 29, 1942, Sirico made his film debut as an extra in the 1974 movie Crazy Joe. He went on to play gangsters in a number of films including Mob Queen, Mighty Aphrodite, Defiance and — perhaps most famously — Goodfellas.
Before he began acting, Sirico spent time in prison on a felony weapons charge. He later said that he decided to try his hand at show business after an acting group came to the visit the “college,” as he called it. “They were a bunch of ex-cons who came back into the place to entertain the guys,” he told Cigar Aficionado in March 2001. “I saw them, and right there and then I knew what I wanted to do. It just hit me. I said, ‘I can do that.’”
Though the Deconstructing Harry star is now beloved by Sopranos fans for his work as Paulie, he initially auditioned for the role of Uncle Junior, which went to Dominic Chianese. After creator David Chase offered him the role of Paulie instead, Sirico took the part on the condition that his character would never become a rat.
“I come from the streets. I been in the Army, I been everywhere,” he told Deadline in January 2019. “I wouldn’t play a rat if you put a gun to my head, and if you did put a gun to my head, you better empty it.”
Sirico was last seen on screen earlier this year in Respect the Jux. In 2018, he reunited with fellow Sopranos alums Vincent Pastore and Federico Castelluccio in the film Sarah Q.
The former Lilyhammer star is survived by daughter Joanne and son Richard, his family said, as well as grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and many other relatives.