Tony Sirico, a one-time jailbird who achieved fame as mobster Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri in HBO‘s “The Sopranos,” died Friday, his brother the Rev. Robert Sirico said on Facebook. He was a little more than two weeks short of his 80th birthday.
“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,” Father Sirico, president emeritus of the Acton Institute, wrote.
“The family is deeply grateful for the many expressions of love, prayer and condolences and requests that the public respect its privacy in this time of bereavement,” the priest, who will celebrate a July 13 Mass of Christian Burial for the longtime actor, added.
A native of New York City who grew up in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush and Bensonhurst neighborhoods, Mr. Sirico served 20 months in New York’s notorious Sing Sing prison in the early 1970s. An acting group comprised of ex-convicts visited the facility and inspired him to take up acting.
A series of films in which he played mob-related figures followed, most notably the role of Tony Stacks in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” He also had roles in five of Woody Allen’s comedies, including a turn as a cop in “Deconstructing Harry.”
But it was his portrayal of “made” mobster Paulie Walnuts in “The Sopranos” that cemented Mr. Sirico’s fame. His character’s hair-trigger temper was seasoned with a mentor-like role to the more junior Christopher Moltisanti, portrayed by Michael Imperioli.
“Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big hearted as anyone i’ve ever known,” Mr. Imperioli wrote on Instagram. “I was at his side through so much: through good times and bad. But mostly good.”
The actor added, “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. I will miss him forever. He is truly irreplaceable.”
Father Sirico wrote his brother “is survived by his two beloved children, Joanne Sirico Bello and Richard Sirico, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and many other relatives.”