Actor Tony Sirico, best known for his memorable role as gangster “Polly Walnuts” Gualtieri on The Sopranos series, has died at the age of 79, his manager told CBS News Friday.
“A wonderful and loyal customer,” wrote manager Bob McGowan. “He would do anything to help those in need.”
McGowan did not provide a cause of death.
McGowan also sent CBS News a Facebook post from Sirico’s brother, Robert Sirico, writing that he was announcing Sirico’s death “with great sadness, but incredible pride, love, and a host of beautiful memories.”
Sirico was born in Brooklyn in 1942. According to his IMDB profile, he made his screen debut in 1977 and rose to prominence years later due to his roles in films like “Goodfellas”. But his main break came in “The Sopranos,” where he played “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, a fiery, loyal and ill-tempered New Jersey gang boss Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini. The cracked nut was violent and often ruthless.
In a 2019 interview with the cast, Siriko said The Sopranos creator David Chase was so impressed with his experience of trying a different role, that of an 80-year-old, that Chase created Paulie Walnuts specifically for him.
“When I first walked in for an audition for David, he looked at me, and said, ‘Sit there’. He put a hat on me, and the lines were ‘Those kids today’. I’m playing an 80-year-old man,” Sirico said.
Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti on the series The Sopranos, has honored Sirico on Instagram. He wrote, “Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, loyal, and big-hearted as anyone I had ever known.”
“I will miss him forever,” Imperioli wrote. “It really is irreplaceable.”
Actress Lauren Bracco, who starred with Sirico in both “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos,” also praised him on Friday, calling him “the upstanding man who has always supported me and loved my children and parents.”
“I hope he’s in heaven hitting everyone now,” she added. “I love you, my friend… rest in peace.”
Siriko’s brother said Siriko is survived by his two children, Juan Sirico Bello and Richard Sirico, as well as his grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews and many other relatives.
While the family requested privacy, Siriko’s brother said donations could be sent to wounded warriors, St Jude Hospital and Acton Institute.
“Certified alcohol aficionado. Organizer. Explorer. Lifelong writer. Falls down a lot. Proud social mediaholic. Freelance student.”