He Was a Gangster in Real Life. Then He Played One

Tony Sirico, best known for his role as 'Paulie Walnuts' on 'The Sopranos,' dies at 79
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 9, 2022 7:45 AM CDT
'Paulie Walnuts' Is Dead at 79
Tony Sirico arrives for the premiere of the fourth season of "The Sopranos" on Sept. 5, 2002, at New York's Radio City Music Hall.   (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File)

With his winged coiffure and scathing one-liners, Paul "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri was one of the most memorable characters on HBO's The Sopranos. Now, fellow cast members are saying arrivederci to the actor who played him: Tony Sirico has died in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at the age of 79, his manager, Bob McGowan confirms to Variety. A cause of death hasn't been given. In a statement to People, McGowan notes that Sirico "was a very loyal client of 25 years. He always supported charities. He was an ex-Army vet and member of the Wounded Warriors." For decades before landing his star turn on The Sopranos, Sirico played movie gangsters and criminals, kicking off his career as an extra in the 1974 films The Godfather: Part II and Crazy Joe.

From there, Sirico was seen in such movies as Goodfellas, Cop Land, and a slew of Woody Allen films, including Bullets Over Broadway, Cafe Society, and Mighty Aphrodite. He originally auditioned for the role of Uncle Junior on The Sopranos, a part that went instead to Dominic Chianese, before getting recruited to play Paulie Walnuts. Art imitated life for Sirico, who was mired in crime before he stumbled into acting. Per the New York Times, the Brooklyn-born Gennaro Anthony Sirico Jr. first got into trouble stealing nickels from a newsstand as a boy, then started running with a bad crowd after dropping out of high school. He went to prison twice, for armed robbery and weapons possession, and it was during one of those stints behind bars when he saw a performance by an acting troupe made up of ex-convicts. "When I watched them, I said to myself, 'I can do that,'" he said in a 1999 interview.

Stars from The Sopranos, including Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Jennifer Melfi on the show), Jamie-Lynn Sigler (Meadow Soprano), and Stevie Van Zandt (Silvio Dante), offered their condolences for Sirico's death online, though it was an Instagram post from Michael Imperioli, whose character Christopher Moltisanti shared much screen time with Paulie Walnuts, that proved especially poignant. "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," Imperioli wrote. "I will miss him forever. He is truly irreplaceable." Per a Facebook post written by Sirico's brother, Sirico is survived by a son and a daughter, as well as "grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, and many other relatives." (Read more The Sopranos stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.