Tony Sirico, Paulie of ‘The Sopranos’, dies at 79

All Soprano fan knows “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, Tony Soprano’s loyal but violent lieutenant. Played by Tony Sirico, Paulie appeared in every season of the show and was the focus of some of its most memorable episodes, including the immortal “Pine Barrens”, widely regarded by most critics and fans as The Sopranos‘ best episode.

Unfortunately, Sirico – whose career spanned years before and after his most famous work on The Sopranos – died on the morning of July 8. No cause of death was given. Sirico was 79 years old.

His brother Robert announced the news on Facebook, writing that Sirico’s family is “deeply grateful for the many expressions of love, prayer and condolences and asks the public to respect his privacy during this time of grief.”

Shortly after his death became public knowledge, his Soprano Co-star Michael Imperioli wrote on his Instagram account “Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big as anyone I’ve ever known. I was at his sides through so many things: through the good times and the bad times. But mostly good. And we laughed a lot. We found a rhythm as Christopher and Paulie and I’m proud to say that I did a lot of my best and funniest job with my dear friend Tony. I will miss him forever.

Sirico was able to tap into some of his own history playing Paulie Walnuts; he was arrested several times in his teens and twenties, and eventually spent over a year in prison on various charges. A decade before The SopranosSirico spoke about some of his criminal past in the 1989 documentary The Big Bang.

While in prison, Sirico became interested in acting. Upon his release, he began appearing on screen in small roles. His early film appearances include Fingers, The pickup artistand Martin Scorsese Goodfellas. In the 1990s, he made several appearances in Woody Allen’s films, including Mighty Aphrodite, Everybody say I love youand Deconstruct Harry.

But his breakthrough came in 1999 when he landed the role of Paulie in The Sopranos. Sirico eventually appeared in 74 of the series’ 86 episodes. Over the years, Paulie has become one of the most complex and fascinating characters on the show. As Paulie, Sirico could be terrifying, pathetic, relatable, monstrous or hilarious – and he was a master of the malapropisms that became one of the The Sopranos‘ comic signatures.

In the years after The Sopranos, Sirico has appeared in more movies and TV shows. But there is no doubt that he will be remembered. There is only one Paulie Walnuts.

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