Tony Sirico, best known for playing mobster Paulie Walnuts on HBO’s The Sopranos, has died at the age of 79, our sister site Variety reports.
Sirico’s manager Bob McGowan confirmed the news, calling him “a very loyal and great client” who “would always help people in need.” No cause of death has been released.
A native New Yorker, Sirico had his own real-life run-ins with the law when a prison visit from an acting troupe full of ex-convicts inspired him to pursue an acting career. He played a number of gangster roles in films like GoodFellas and Bullets Over Broadway before landing the role that would define his acting career: that of tough-guy enforcer Paulie Gualtieri, aka “Paulie Walnuts,” on the HBO drama The Sopranos.
Sirico originally auditioned to play Uncle Junior, but that role went to Dominic Chianese instead. Sopranos creator David Chase then offered Sirico the role of Paulie, but Sirico would only agree if Chase promised the character would not “become a rat.” Sirico went on to appear in all six seasons of the Emmy-winning classic, winning a pair of Screen Actors Guild awards as part of the Sopranos ensemble.
Following The Sopranos, Sirico appeared in episodes of Chuck and The Grinder and lent his voice to episodes of Family Guy and American Dad!.
Michael Imperioli, who starred alongside Sirico on The Sopranos as Christopher Moltisanti, paid tribute to him on Instagram: “It pains me to say that my dear friend, colleague and partner in crime, the great TONY SIRICO has passed away today. 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. He is truly irreplaceable. I send love to his family, friends and his many many fans. He was beloved and will never be forgotten. Heartbroken today.”