The Sopranos actor Robert Iler has recalled his late co-star Tony Sirico, saying he was the main reason he wasn’t bullied or harassed in Hollywood.
During a discussion about other teenage stars in Hollywood, Iler (who was around 13 years-old when he joined The Sopranos) said Sirico vowed to protect him if anyone “bothered” him.
Speaking on the podcast, Iler said: “When all the molesting stuff gets talked about… people always say to me, ‘Did anything happen like that on your set?’ And I’m like, you think Tony Sirico was standing around, if there were people eyeing me the wrong way, like ‘Oh, Rob looks really cute today,’ Tony Sirico is just gonna stand there and not do anything?”
He added: “Once we did the second or third episode, Tony Sirico just came over to me and said, ‘Hey, uh, if anyone ever… bothers you, or anybody says anything, you tell Uncle Tony, OK?’ And that’s how I felt in fucking school, too.
“Like I was 13 years-old and I was like, ‘Oh, this kid thinks he’s gonna mouth off to me? I’ll have Tony Sirico come down.’ No matter how old you are, you see somebody that has like black hair here and silver hair on the sides – and just the way he always had a handkerchief in his pocket – you go like this dude will fuck you up.”
Sirico, who played Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri in The Sopranos, died aged 79 on July 8 after living with dementia for two years.
His co-star Michael Imperioli paid tribute on Instagram, writing: “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.
“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.”