Tony Sirico, best known for his role as “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri on The Sopranos, has died. He was 79.
Sirico passed away Friday at an assisted living facility in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., according to his manager of 25 years Bob McGowan. No cause of death was revealed but Sirico had been suffering from dementia for the past couple years.
“Not only was he a loyal client, he was a good friend,” McGowan told The Hollywood Reporter.
Sirico portrayed “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, a close confidante of James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano, on the HBO series.
His Sopranos co-star Michael Imperioli paid tribute to Sirico on his Instagram writing, “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.”
He continued, “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.”
Born in New York City on July 29, 1942, Sirico served in the Army before launching his acting career in the 1970s. Sirico made his acting debut in the 1974 drama Crazy Joe starring Henry Winkler.
Sirico was also known for roles in such films as Goodfellas, Cop Land and Mickey Blue Eyes. He frequently collaborated with Woody Allen, having appeared in the director’s films Bullets Over Broadway, Mighty Aphrodite, Everyone Says I Love You, Deconstructing Harry, Celebrity and Wonder Wheel.
Among his TV work was a voice role on five episodes of Family Guy as Vinny Griffin, who was temporarily the family’s dog. Sirico also recurred on Netflix’s Lilyhammer and as a voice on American Dad! Other TV roles include Miami Vice, Chuck, Medium, Taxi Brooklyn and The Grindr.
He most recent work includes the film Respect the Jux.
The Sopranos creator David Chase paid tribute to Sirico with a statement that read, “Tony was a jewel. The way Buddhists refer to a jewel — supernatural and a master. But certainly not a Zen master. He was so uproarious, so funny, so talented. I’m very happy for him that in his mid-50s and 60s he finally learned how talented and loved he was. I was just thinking about him yesterday, strangely enough, and was reminded that he was a main reason for the success of The Sopranos. I will miss him greatly, Gennaro. As will the world.”
Sirico was also remembered by his co-stars Lorraine Bracco and Stevie Van Zandt. Sopranos and Goodfellas star Bracco tweeted, “A stand up guy who always had my back and who loved my children and my parents. I have a lifetime of memories with Tony – starting with Goodfellas to The Sopranos and way beyond but my God, did we have fun doing the Bensonhurst Spelling Bee. I hope he’s in heaven cracking everybody up now. Love you, my pal.” Bracco also starred alongside Sirico in a Funny or Die short The Bensonhurst Spelling Bee.
Sirico’s Lilyhammer co-star Zandt wrote, “RIP Tony Sirico. Legendary. Silvio’s best buddy ‘Paulie Walnuts’ in The Sopranos, Frankie ‘The Fixer’s’ older brother Antonino ‘Father Tony’ Tagliano in Lilyhammer. A larger than life character on and off screen. Gonna miss you a lot my friend. Deepest condolences to the family.”
Meanwhile HBO described Sirico as “a tremendous, one-of-a-kind talent. “On The Sopranos, his legendary performance as the unwavering Paulie Walnuts cemented him as an icon, beloved for his one-liners and steadfast devotion. He will be sorely missed by the HBO family,” a statement shared on HBO’s official Twitter account read.
Sirico is survived by daughter Joanne, son Richard and brother Robert.
July 8, 9:18 p.m. Updated with Chase’s statement.
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