LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) – American actor Tony Sirico, who played the lovable but murderous gangster Paulie Walnuts on the HBO series, The Sopranos (1999 to 2007), and was frequently cast in director Woody Allen’s films, died on Friday (July 8) at age 79, his family said.
“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.
No cause of death was reported.
Born in Brooklyn on July 29, 1942, Tony Sirico served 20 months in prison on a gun charge in the early 1970s, according to the movie database IMDB.com.
His first movie role came in Crazy Joe (1974), about the mafia figure Joey Gallo, but his defining role was in The Sopranos, created by screenwriter David Chase.
“When I first read David Chase’s script, I knew this was special,” Sirico is quoted as saying on IMDB. “This is what I’d been looking for all my life. … I knew right away this was a role to kill for.”
He played Walnuts in the HBO drama and became an influential hit early in the era of prestige television.
Though he played smaller parts in six Allen movies from 1994 to 2016, Sirico was not especially well known before his breakout role, in which he was a captain in the crime family of lead character Tony Soprano, played by late actor James Gandolfini.
The Walnuts character was a steely criminal who displayed periodic kindness, sometimes providing goofy comic relief with malapropisms, but always loyal to the boss.
“A larger than life character on and off screen. Gonna miss you a lot my friend,” Sopranos co-star Steven Van Zandt said on Twitter.
Sirico often played Italian-American mobsters, including a small part in Goodfellas, director Martin Scorsese’s popular and critical hit from 1990.
Sirico also took a comic turn voicing the talking dog Vinny on the animated show Family Guy (1999 to present).
His credits in Allen’s movies include Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Everyone Says I Love You (1996), Deconstructing Harry (1997), Celebrity (1998), and in his post-Sopranos fame, Cafe Society (2016).
Sirico is survived by two children plus an unspecified number of grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and others, his brother said.