Sopranos Star Tony “Paulie Walnuts” Sirico Has Died

Tony Sirico, famed for his portrayal of New Jersey gangster Paulie Walnuts on HBO's influential series The Sopranos, has died.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

Tony Sirico sopranos

Legendary actor Tony Sirico, best known for his portrayal of mobster Paulie Walnuts on the influential HBO series The Sopranos, has died. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Tony Sirico passed away at an assisted living facility in Florida; while no cause of death has been announced, the Sopranos actor reportedly had been suffering from dementia for several years. He was 79. While Tony Sirico was best known by far for his role as a violent, yet soulful and loyal New Jersey Mafia associate, he had a long and fascinating life and career outside of the hit series. 

Tony Sirico was born Gennaro Anthony Sirico Jr. in 1942 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. He served in the US Army and began acting in the 1970s, but had a very colorful criminal past prior to that. According to interviews he gave over the course of his life (and public records), Tony Sirico had a tumultuous early life that both mirrored and informed his eventual persona in The Sopranos and other mob shows and films. Sirico claimed to have been arrested 28 times (but only convicted twice) and that he had “stuck up every nightclub in New York.”At one point, he was convicted on charges of extortion, coercion, and felony weapons possession, and sentenced to four years imprisonment in the New York State maximum correction facility Sing Sing. He was released after 20 months. 

Tony Sirico’s first credited acting role was in 1977’s Hughes and Harlow: Angels in Hell, which starred Victor Holchak as legendary American businessman and film producer Howard Hughes and Lindsay Bloom as actress Jean Harlow. His IMDb credits are overwhelmingly dominated by roles as gangsters and mob types, a typecasting that does not appear to have ever bothered the actor. Over the course of his career, he was featured in six films by Woody Allen: Bullets Over Broadway, Everyone Says I Love You, Mighty Aphrodite, Deconstructing Harry, Celebrity, and Wonder Wheel. However, it was Tony Sirico’s casting in the David Chase series The Sopranos that made him a pop culture icon. 

While he would go to fame as the malapropism-prone Paulie Walnuts, Tony Sirico first auditioned for a role in The Sopranos as Tony Soprano’s (James Gandolfini) Uncle Junior, a role that eventually went to Dominic Chianese. David Chase then offered Tony Sirico the role of Paulie Walnuts, which he accepted on the terms that the character not ever be portrayed as a police informer. According to his co-star and friend Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico was one of the few actors to have successfully argued for a change in a Sopranos script, after demanding that Paulie Walnuts not be referred to as a “bully.” The line (delivered by actor John Heard) was changed to “psycho,” which was apparently fine by him. 

The passing of Tony Sirico was mourned by many of his Sopranos collaborators, including Imperioli, Steven Van Zandt, Lorraine Bracco, and David Chase. Sirico was a unique talent who left an indelible mark on modern pop culture. RIP, Tony Sirico.