Tony Sirico, who played Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri in The Sopranos, has died aged 79.
Sirico died yesterday morning (July 8), as confirmed by both his family and manager of 25 years, Bob McGowan.
McGowan told The Hollywood Reporter that Sirico died in an assisted living facility in Fort Lauderdale, after living with dementia for the last two years.
A statement posted on Facebook by Sirico’s brother Robert read: “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 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.”
Sirico played Paulie in all six seasons of the hit HBO drama The Sopranos, with his character becoming one of the most beloved in the show. Its cast led tributes to Sirico on social media, with co-star Michael Imperioli calling him a “dear friend, colleague and partner in crime”.
“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.”
Stevie Van Zandt, who played Silvio Dante in The Sopranos and starred with Sirico in the Netflix series Lillyhammer, added: “RIP Tony Sirico. Legendary. Silvio’s best buddy ‘Paulie Walnuts’ in The Sopranos, Frankie ‘The Fixer’s’ older brother Antonino ‘Father Tony’ Tagliano in Lilyhammer. A larger than life character on and off screen. Gonna miss you a lot my friend. Deepest condolences to the family.”
RIP Tony Sirico. Legendary. Silvio’s best buddy “Paulie Walnuts” in The Sopranos, Frankie “The Fixer’s” older brother Antonino “Father Tony” Tagliano in Lilyhammer. A larger than life character on and off screen. Gonna miss you a lot my friend. Deepest condolences to the family. pic.twitter.com/pAkDnqfLEs
— 🕉Stevie Van Zandt☮️ (@StevieVanZandt) July 8, 2022
Tony Sirico! We salute you! pic.twitter.com/Yo8tQxa0xn
— 🕉Stevie Van Zandt☮️ (@StevieVanZandt) July 9, 2022
Lorraine Bracco, who played Dr. Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos, called Sirico “a stand-up guy who always had my back and who loved my children and my parents”.
She added: “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 hope he’s in heaven cracking everybody up now. Love you, my pal.”
— Lorraine Bracco (@Lorraine_Bracco) July 8, 2022
The Sopranos creator David Chase added: “The way Buddhists refer to a jewel – supernatural and a master. But certainly not a Zen master. He was so uproarious, so funny, so talented. I’m very happy for him that in his mid-fifties and sixties he finally learned how talented and loved he was.”
He also said Sirico was “a main reason for the success of The Sopranos”.
Steve Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccalieri in the show, said Sirico was “one of a kind in all the best ways! A truly loyal friend with a gift for making people laugh, especially me. If you were lucky enough to be his friend you were guaranteed a good time whenever you were around him. He will be missed. Rest In Peace pal!!!”
You can see some of the many other tributes to Sirico here:
— Al Jean (@AlJean) July 8, 2022
Tony Sirico was a tremendous, one-of-a-kind talent. On The Sopranos, his legendary performance as the unwavering Paulie Walnuts cemented him as an icon, beloved for his one-liners and steadfast devotion. He will be sorely missed by the HBO family. pic.twitter.com/Hj7SlamGrT
— HBO (@HBO) July 9, 2022
Terence Winter, a writer on “Sopranos,” said: “The 1st thing Tony Sirico ever said to me — literally on day one — was, ‘You’re the new writer? Let me tell u something. If u ever write a script where I die? First, I die. Then u die.’ I was like, OK.’”#RIP pic.twitter.com/wn327P78UK
— Carl Quintanilla (@carlquintanilla) July 9, 2022
A native to New York City, Sirico was born in 1942, and was best known for playing gangsters in films such as Goodfellas, Cop Land and Mickey Blue Eyes.
Sirico was 55 years old and sleeping at his mother’s house in Brooklyn when he was cast in The Sopranos – a role that would see him go on to win two Screen Actors Guild Awards. Before that, he’d been arrested 28 times and had two spells in prison.
Speaking to the LA Times in 1990, he said: “Where I grew up, every guy was trying to prove himself. You either had to have a tattoo or a bullet hole.”
“I had both,” he told the publication, calling himself ”unstable” during that period of his life.
Sirico also played police officers in films like Dead Presidents and Deconstructing Harry. Among his other credits were several Woody Allen films, including Bullets Over Broadway and Mighty Aphrodite. He also appeared on numerous television shows such as Miami Vice.
Sirico is survived by daughter Joanne Sirico Bello, son Richard Sirico and his brother, Robert.