Tony Sirico: Goodfellas and The Sopranos star passes away at 79

Tony Sirico, best known for playing Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri in The Sopranos, has passed away aged 79

Tony Sirico as Paulie Walnuts in a season 6 episode of The Sopranos (Credit: HBO)Tony Sirico as Paulie Walnuts in a season 6 episode of The Sopranos (Credit: HBO)
Tony Sirico as Paulie Walnuts in a season 6 episode of The Sopranos (Credit: HBO)

Tony Sirico, the actor best known for playing Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri in The Sopranos, has passed away aged 79.

Sirico’s family confirmed his passing with a statement on Facebook. “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 Jr. wish to inform you of his death on the morning of July 8, 2022,” read a post from Sirico’s brother, Robert Sirico.

“The family is deeply grateful for the many expressions of love, prayer and condolences and requests that the public respect its privacy in this time of bereavement,” the statement continued.

Sirico was born in New York City on 29 July 1942. He grew up in Brooklyn, a place he once described to the Los Angeles Times as somewhere “every guy was trying to prove himself. You either had to have a tattoo or a bullet hole.”

Prior to his acting career, Sirico was arrested 28 times, spending a number of years in prison – it was a visit from an acting troupe comprised of former convicts that prompted Sirico to take up performing himself.

His first role was as an extra in the 1974 crime film Crazy Joe, which eventually lead to more substantial parts in films like Goodfellas, Bullets Over Broadway, and Dead Presidents. Sirico was best known, however, for playing Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos, the HBO mafia drama that ran from 1999 to 2007.

Sirico, who auditioned first for the Uncle Junior role that eventually went to Dominic Chianese, appeared in 74 episodes of The Sopranos.

His former co-stars have been amongst those making tributes to Sirico. Michael Imperioli, who shared many scenes with Sirico as Christopher Moltisanti, said that “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. 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.”

Michael Gandolfini (son of series lead James Gandolfini) expressed similar sentiments. “He was a phenomenal actor and an even better man,” wrote Gandolfini of Sirico. “Tony was one of a kind. He touched many with his gift and my heart goes out to his family, his friends, and all of his fans. We love you Tony, thank you for all the joy you brought to many. You will be missed.”

Rolling Stone television critic Alan Sepinwall, who has written a book about The Sopranos, wrote that “few actors in the history of filmed entertainment have taken more pleasure in being linked to their most famous role than Sirico.”

“There is a version of the character Chase created who is an utter caricature in the hands of a different actor,” suggested Sepinwall. “But the joy of Sirico’s performance — what made Paulie so charismatic and beloved despite the fact that he was a miserable, homicidal, self-pitying prick — was how it managed to have things both ways. Sirico was not subtle, but somehow, he was nuanced.”

Sirico is survived by his daughter Joanne, his brother Robert, and a number of grandchildren. He had been living with dementia in recent years, and was staying in an assisted living facility at the time of his death.

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