People Are Honoring The Late, Great Tony Sirico, AKA Paulie Walnuts From ‘The Sopranos’

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.

But really, everyone was gutted by the loss.