Tributes pour in for 'The Sopranos' actor Tony Sirico who played mobster Paulie Walnuts

Actor died at an assisted living facility in Florida at the age of 79

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Actor Tony Sirico, who played the impeccably groomed mobster Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos, has been remembered as a "legendary" actor who was "loyal and big-hearted".

Sirico died on Friday at an assisted living facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said his manager, Bob McGowen. There was no immediate information on the cause of death. He was 79.

"It is with great sadness, but with incredible pride, love and a whole lot of fond memories, that the family of Gennaro Anthony 'Tony' Sirico wishes to inform you of his death on the morning of July 8, 2022," his brother, Robert Sirico, a Roman Catholic priest, posted on Facebook.

Tony Sirico and James Gandolfini hold their awards for Best Ensemble in a Drama for their work in 'The Sopranos' at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2008. AP

McGowan, who represented Sirico for more than two decades, recalled him as “loyal and giving,” with a strong philanthropic streak. That included helping ex-soldiers’ causes, which hit home for the army veteran, his manager said.

Steven Van Zandt, who played opposite Sirico as fellow mobster Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, saluted him on Twitter as “legendary.”

“A larger than life character on and off screen. Gonna miss you a lot my friend,” the actor and musician said.

Michael Imperioli, who portrayed Christopher Moltisanti on The Sopranos, called Sirico his “dear friend, colleague and partner in crime.”

“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," Imperioli posted on Instagram.

Sirico was unconcerned about being cast in a string of bad guy roles, McGowan said, most prominently that of Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri in the 1999-2007 run of the acclaimed HBO drama starring James Gandolfini as mob boss Tony Soprano. Gandolfini died in 2013 at age 51.

“He didn’t mind playing a mob guy, but he wouldn’t play an informant,” or as Sirico put it, a “snitch,” McGowan said.

From left, Tony Sirico, Steven Van Zandt, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Vincent Pastore in 'The Sopranos'. Photo: HBO

Sirico, born on July 29, 1942, in New York City, grew up in the Flatbush and Bensonhurst neighbourhoods where he said “every guy was trying to prove himself. You either had to have a tattoo or a bullet hole".

“I had both,” he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1990 interview, calling himself ”unstable” during that period of his life. He was arrested repeatedly for criminal offences, he said, and was in prison twice. In his last stint behind bars, in the 1970s, he saw a performance by a group of ex-convicts and caught the acting bug.

“I watched ’em and I thought, ‘I can do that.’ I knew I wasn’t bad looking. And I knew I had the (guts) to stand up and (bull) people,” he told the Times. “You get a lot of practice in prison. I used to stand up in front of these cold-blooded murderers and kidnappers — and make ’em laugh.”

Sirico also was cast outside the gangster mould, playing police officers in the films Dead Presidents and Deconstructing Harry. Among his other credits were Woody Allen movies including Bullets over Broadway and Mighty Aphrodite, and appearances on the TV series including Miami Vice and voice roles on Family Guy and American Dad!.

Sirico is survived by daughter Joanne Sirico Bello; son Richard Sirico; his brother, Robert and other relatives.

— Additional reporting by AP, AFP and Reuters

Updated: July 09, 2022, 6:31 AM