Every Sopranos fan knows “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, the loyal but violent lieutenant of Tony Soprano. Played by Tony Sirico, Paulie appeared in every season of the show, and was a focal point of some of its most memorable installments, including the immortal “Pine Barrens,” widely regarded by most critics and fans as The Sopranos’ best episode.
Sadly, Sirico — whose career stretched back years before and after his most famous work on The Sopranos — died on the morning of July 8. No cause of death was given. Sirico was 79 years old.
His brother Robert announced the news on Facebook, writing that Sirico’s 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.”
Shortly after his death became public, his Sopranos co-star Michael Imperioli wrote on his Instagram account “Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big hearted as anyone i’ve ever known. I was at his side through so much: through good times and bad. But mostly good. And we had a lot of laughs. 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.”
Sirico was able to draw on some of his own history in playing Paulie Walnuts; he was arrested numerous times in his teens and 20s, and ultimately spent over a year in prison on a variety of charges. A decade before The Sopranos, Sirico spoke about some of his criminal past in the 1989 documentary The Big Bang.
While he was in prison, Sirico became interested in acting. Upon his release, he started appearing onscreen in small roles. His early film appearances include Fingers, The Pick-up Artist, and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. In the 1990s, he made several appearances in Woody Allen movies including Mighty Aphrodite, Everyone Says I Love You, and Deconstructing Harry.
But his breakthrough came in 1999 when he landed the role as Paulie in The Sopranos. Sirico ultimately appeared in 74 of the series’ 86 episodes. Over the years, Paulie became one of the series’ most complex and fascinating characters. As Paulie, Sirico could be terrifying, pathetic, relatable, monstrous, or hilarious — and he was a master of the malapropisms that became one of The Sopranos’ comedic signatures.
In the years after The Sopranos, Sirico appeared in more films and television shows. But there’s no doubt what he will be remembered for. There’s only one Paulie Walnuts.
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