Actor Tony Sirico, best known for his role as a mobster on The Sopranos, has died aged 79. Most notably, he portrayed Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri, a fictional mafia member playing a prominent role in an organised crime ring in the US state of New Jersey.
His Sopranos co-star Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti, led the tributes: “Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big-hearted as anyone I’ve ever known,” he said.
Imperioli continued his post on Instagram, explaining that the two actors “found a groove as Christopher and Paulie. 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.”
Sirico was 55 years old, sleeping in a cot at his mother’s house in Brooklyn, when he was cast for the major role that would win him two Screen Actors Guild Awards.
In his career, he was typecast for gangster roles, appearing in more than a dozen other mob movies, including Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. His brother, Father Anthony Sirico, posted on Facebook that the actor is survived by his two children, grandchildren, and “many other relatives”.
Sirico was born in Brooklyn, New York, and in keeping with his typecast, was arrested 28 times – spending two stretches in prison. Speaking to the LA Times in 1990, he explained: “Where I grew up, every guy was trying to prove himself. You either had to have a tattoo or a bullet hole.”
Famed Godfather actor James Caan, who died earlier this week, aged 82, was quoted as saying of his old friend and fellow actor: “He’s been able to romanticise his past, throw in a few bangles and sparkles and use it as an actor. What you see is really him – he just adds a little pepper, a little cayenne, to spice it up.”
A great, loyal client,” his manager Bob McGowan wrote on Friday. “He would do anything to help people in need.”
Recapture some of Tony Sirico’s best moments from The Sopranos below.