Tony Sirico, Paul Gualtieri On The Sopranos, Has Died

Gennaro Anthony "Tony" Sirico, the actor who brought mobster Paul "Walnuts" Gualtieri to life on HBO's masterpiece series "The Sopranos," has died. The news has been confirmed by the actor's brother, Robert Sirico, who shared a Facebook post in honor of Tony Sirico. Here's part of his statement:

"​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. ​Tony is survived by his two beloved children, Joanne Sirico Bello and Richard Sirico, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and many other relatives."

The message from the Sirico family goes on to say that while they are "deeply grateful for the many expressions of love, prayer, and condolences," they ask for privacy during this time. Sirico was 79.

As the moody and particular gangster, Paulie Walnuts on David Chase's "The Sopranos," Sirico put in a gutsy, layered, and often incredibly funny performance. While the groundbreaking series portrayed all its villains as deeply human, Paulie in particular was prone to comic foibles and hair-trigger emotions that ran deep. The character could tell a joke one minute and pierce someone with a dagger-like stare — and the violence to back it up — the next. Despite his myriad flaws, Paulie Walnuts was one of Tony Soprano's (James Gandolfini) most loyal right-hand men, and Sirico appeared across all six seasons of the Emmy-winning series that changed the face of television.

His costar pays tribute

The actor's co-star on the series, Michael Imperioli, shared his own memories of the actor today in an Instagram post. "Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big-hearted as anyone I've ever known," the actor shared. Imperioli played ambitious young mobster Christopher Moltisanti in the series, and his character and Sirico's often ended up pushing one another to the brink. "We found a groove as Christopher and Paulie and I am proud to say I did a lot of my best and most work with my dear pal Tony," Imperioli posted. "I will miss him forever."

Though Sirico was best-known as Paulie Gualtieri, he had a long, fruitful career that began in the 1970s. The actor often played made men, popping up as a mobster in movies like "Goodfellas," "Wonder Wheel," and 1996's "Gotti." The actor even made a post-"Sopranos" appearance as a gangster in "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa." Sirico's own criminal history was no secret, as he shared his story about catching the acting bug while in prison when an acting troupe composed of ex-inmates came to entertain those doing time. "I saw them, and right there and then I knew what I wanted to do," he told Cigar Aficionado in 2001. Upon his release, Sirico said he called a friend who had appeared in "The Godfather" and landed his first role soon after.

Sirico, whose colorful early life sometimes seemed like a "Sopranos" story itself, says the writers of the series drew from his own story to create Paulie, including his relationship with his mother and his penchant for neatness. "We'd have the writers sit and talk with us," he told Vanity Fair. "They heard the cadence of my voice and what I said, and how I expressed myself — you know what I mean? So I had guys put down my own words and shove them right back into my throat." 

It was a pleasure to see Sirico share those words on "The Sopranos," and his work will live on within one of the great pillars of television history.