‘Sopranos’ actor Tony Sirico dies at 79
Tony Sirico, who played impeccably groomed mobster Paulie Walnuts in « The Sopranos » and brought his tough-guy swagger to movies including « Goodfellas, » died Friday. He was 79 years old.
Sirico died at an assisted living facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, his manager, Bob McGowen, said. There was no immediate information on the cause of death.
A statement from Sirico’s family confirmed the death of Gennaro Anthony « Tony » Sirico « with great sadness, but with pride, love and many fond memories. »
McGowan, who represented Sirico for more than two decades, called him « loyal and generous, » with a strong philanthropic streak. That included helping ex-soldier causes, which affected the Army veteran, his manager said.
Steven Van Zandt, who starred alongside Sirico as mobster Silvio Dante in « The Sopranos, » hailed him on Twitter as « legendary. »
« A larger than life character on and off screen. I will miss you dearly my friend, » the actor and musician said.
Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti in « The Sopranos, » called Sirico his « dear friend, colleague and partner in crime. »
« Tony was like no one else: he was as tough and as loyal and as big as anyone I’ve ever known, » Imperioli said on Instagram.
Sirico didn’t mind being cast in a series of villainous roles, McGowan said, especially that of Peter Paul « Paulie Walnuts » Gualtieri in the 1999-2007 run of the acclaimed HBO drama starring James Gandolfini as of mob boss Tony Soprano. (Gandolfini died in 2013 at age 51).
« He didn’t mind playing a mob guy, but he wouldn’t play an informant, » or, as Sirico put it, a « snitch, » McGowan said.
Sirico, born July 29, 1942 in New York City, grew up in the Flatbush and Bensonhurst neighborhoods where he said « every guy was trying to prove himself. You either had to have a tattoo or a bullet hole. »
« I had both, » he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1990 interview, calling himself « unstable » during that time in his life. He has been arrested multiple times for criminal offences, he said, and has been imprisoned twice. When he was last behind bars, in the 1970s, he saw a group of ex-convicts and caught the acting bug.
« I looked at them and thought, ‘I can do this.’ I knew I wasn’t mean. And I knew I had the (gut) to stand up and (slash) people, » he told The Times. « You get a lot of practice in prison. I used to stand in front of these cold-blooded murderers and kidnappers – and make them laugh. »
Sirico was also thrown out of the mobster mold, playing police officers in the films « Dead Presidents » and « Deconstructing Harry. » His other credits included Woody Allen films including « Bullets over Broadway » and « Mighty Aphrodite, » and guest appearances on television series such as « Miami Vice » and voice roles in « Family Guy » and « American Dad! «
Sirico is survived by his daughter Joanne Sirico Bello; son Richard Sirico; his brother, Robert Sirico, priest; and other relatives.