Variety has confirmed that Tony Sirico, who was best known for his role as mobster Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts,” Gualtieri, died Friday. He was 79 years old.
Virco’s Paulie Walnuts was a bombastic, ferociously funny, foot soldier to James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano. He had one-liners like none other and was a “Sopranos” scene-stealer right from the beginning.
Sirico balanced Paulie’s menace with his dry humor and penchant for malapropisms. He once called Sun Tzu “Sun Tuh Zoo”, later calling the philosopher the “Chinese Prince Matchabelli.” After auditioning for Uncle Junior’s role, Sirico appeared in all six seasons. Dominic Chianese was ultimately offered the part.
Gennaro Anthony Sirico Jr. was born July 24, 1942, to an Italian family living in New York City. He spent most of his childhood getting into trouble with law enforcement and has been linked with the Colombo crime family.
After stealing nickels from a newsstand as a 7-year-old, he was arrested 28 more times before he started acting. He was twice sent to prison, one for illegal weapon possession and another for armed robbery.
Sirico said that he was “very unstable” at that point in his life to the LA Times in 1990. I wasn’t thinking right. These guys hooked me up and I became a stick-up artist. I was at every New York nightclub.”
He continued, “I have to admit that I find it funny when someone spots me and asks for my autograph.” It’s the old guilt. Perhaps I feel like I don’t deserve attention.”