On Friday, it was reported that Tony Sirico, best known as Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri on The Sopranos, had passed away in an assisted living facility. He was 79 years old. He was one of the more colorful members of an already colorful cast on a show that changed TV history, kicking off what has been widely considered a Second Golden Age. As such, his passing was met with an avalanche of tributes, many of them incredible clips from the show that made him a star.
Sirico spent decades typecast as a gangster in film and TV, and for a good reason: He used to be a criminal, and he led a colorful life before he was ever on-screen. Growing up in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, he was surrounded by what he later called “mob-type people,” and he soon started a life of crime. He was arrested 28 times but only convicted twice. While serving 20 months of a four-year stint in Sing Sing, he fell into acting when a group of reformed convicts visited the facility. He was convinced he could do that, too.
And so he did. He appeared as an uncredited extra in The Godfather: Part II, and eventually became regulars for filmmakers like James Toback (Fingers, The Pick-Up Artist) and Woody Allen, for whom he acted seven times. He became part of what his future Sopranos colleague Vincent Pastore jokingly dubbed the “Gangsters Acting Guild.”
But it was The Sopranos that made him a household fixture. From 1999 through 2007, he could be seen on Sunday nights as the simultaneously silly, eccentric, and terrifying Paulie, a mafia lifer with fascinating hair, a fear of germs, hatred of cats, and a love of track suits. Paulie avoided the grim fate that met most characters, because who could ever want to whack Paulie Walnuts?
Upon word of his passing, tributes poured in. Some were from fellow Sopranos alumni.
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. pic.twitter.com/pAkDnqfLEs
— 🕉Stevie Van Zandt☮️ (@StevieVanZandt) July 8, 2022
Michael Imperioli has revealed that "The Sopranos" co-star Tony Sirico has passed away at the age of 79. "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. He was beloved and will never be forgotten." pic.twitter.com/rRAsgko3yT
— IndieWire (@IndieWire) July 8, 2022
But really, everyone was gutted by the loss.
Tony Sirico and Michael Imperioli’s chemistry was absolutely off the charts I hate this so much. pic.twitter.com/GVsW5E83tV
— iz 🧛🏿♂️ (@israelizreal) July 8, 2022
R.I.P. Tony Sirico, a fucking legend. A real-life gangster who cleaned up his life, took several small parts in New York gangster movies (including Tony Stacks in Goodfellas), and then got the role of a lifetime as Paulie Walnuts. This week sucks. pic.twitter.com/kc8OLJDKT5
— William Friedkin Truths (@LazlosGhost) July 8, 2022
RIP Tony Sirico. Paulie Walnuts wasn’t concerned about the afterlife because he said he had totaled up the punishment value of his mortal and venial sins and “I can do that time standing on my head.” Hopefully Tony will have a much easier time of it. What a unique actor.
— Matt Zoller Seitz (@mattzollerseitz) July 8, 2022
RIP Tony sirico. Played one of the truly great characters in tv history. pic.twitter.com/aKAVb7VcyU
— kyle (@knicks_tape99) July 8, 2022
The right way to honor Tony Sirico is to go to Jersey and get just batshit insane lost in the woods.
— Kashana (@kashanacauley) July 8, 2022
RIP to the legendary Tony Sirico. Paulie Walnuts will never be forgotten.❤️ pic.twitter.com/nlu5vsatYx
— sopranos clips (@sopranosclips) July 8, 2022
Tony Sirico greeting James Gandolfini on the other side pic.twitter.com/VKFMvyt97G
— King of Crawfish (@___MVH___) July 8, 2022
RIP, Tony Sirico. A walk down “Paulie Walnuts” memory lane… pic.twitter.com/tGpoHe28aT
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) July 8, 2022
RIP Tony Sirico. Paulie Walnuts is an all-time great character. pic.twitter.com/8Bn4r2eMAK
— Ashok Moore (@AshokMoore) July 8, 2022
RIP Tony Sirico, one of the greatest actors of our time who I'm told passed this morning. Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri was arguably the most fun, memorable character from "The Sopranos". Donations are being made in his honor to Wounded Warriors, St.Jude's Hospital & @ActonInstitute pic.twitter.com/7ZVQ453Ckn
— Jon Hartley 🇨🇦🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@Jon_Hartley_) July 8, 2022
The line between Paulie Walnuts and the late Tony Sirico could be narrower than the most thinly-sliced cut of meat at Satriale’s, but that blurring of actor and character is what made him such an indelible part of #TheSopranos My Sirico tribute: https://t.co/o3lUmoN2cu pic.twitter.com/f7oTprdey7
— Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall) July 9, 2022