Tony Sirico, the former mobster-turned-film star known as Polly Walnuts on “The Sopranos,” died Friday. He was 79 years old.
Sirico’s death was announced by his brother Robert and his “Sopranos” co-star Michael Imperioli.
“I am sad to say that my dear friend, colleague and partner in crime, the great Tony Sirico, has passed away today,” Imperioli wrote on instagram, “Tony was like no other: he was as tough, as loyal, and as big-hearted as I have ever known.”
Sirico’s harsh-spoken, line-repeating Paulie was a fan-favorite among “Sopranos” watchers, as Sirico’s charm made the character endearing despite his vicious actions.
“The Sopranos” was one of several gangster roles for the Brooklyn-born Sirico, who also appeared in “Goodfellas,” “Mob Queen” and “GoT.” He was also a favorite of director Woody Allen.
But earlier in his life, it was not an act. Sirico was arrested 28 times—the first time at age 7—and spent two separate terms in prison before turning to acting. When he took on the role of Paulie, Sirico said he would do so only after “Sopranos” producer David Chase promised him that Paulie would never be a rat.
“I was the man packing the pistol. The first time I went to prison, they searched me to see if I had a gun – and I had three of them,” Sirico told Los Angeles Times in the 1990s. “In our neighborhood, if you didn’t have a gun, it was like you were a rabbit during rabbit hunting season.”
Born Gennaro Anthony Sirico in Brooklyn on July 24, 1942, Sirico grew up in Bensonhurst. Nearly half a century later, he said he would take it “over Beverly Hills any day”.
He first made the police blotter at the age of 7 when he was busted for stealing nickels from a newsstand. A series of petty crimes and weapons charges followed, but Sirico was convicted only twice – once on a weapons charge and once for armed robbery.
“I got 28 arrests and only two convictions, so you have to admit that I have a pretty good acting record,” he joked to the LA Times.
During his second prison term in the early 1970s, Sirico watched a performance of the prison theater and said to himself: “I can do this.”
His first three credited acting performances took place in 1977. He gradually began acting work in the 1980s, including an appearance in “Miami Vice” in 1989.
His first major film was 1990’s “Goodfellas”. His role of Tony Stax may have been small for the film, but it was huge for Sirico, who starred in several more films in the 1990s: “29th Street,” “New York Cop,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “The Search for One-Eye Jimmy,” “Mighty Aphrodite” and many more.
But the world knew him best as Peter Paul “Polly Walnuts” Gaultieri on “The Sopranos.” Appearing in the show’s pilot through its final episode, Sirico brought unspeakable charisma to the role of ruthless mob enforcer.
“Sopranos” co-star Steven Van Zantt tweeted that Sirico “a larger than life character on and off screen. Missing you so much my friend.”
Dan Grimaldi, who played Philly and Patsy Paris in “The Sopranos,” had known his co-star since Sirico was 19 years old. They both came from Brooklyn, in which Sirico was three years old.
“He was a tough guy,” Grimaldi told the Daily News Friday. “No doubt he could handle himself. He was as tough as the characters he played.”
But Grimaldi, who remained with his friend even after the show ended in 2007, spoke of him in a scathing manner.
“Big heart, loyal friend and a lovely, lovely man,” Grimaldi told The News.
Sirico’s most famous episode is also one of the best in TV history, Season 3’s “Pine Barrens,” in which Pauli and Christopher Moltisanti of Imperioli must find a Russian killer after being defeated in the infamous Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The two spend a cold night in a truck, Paulie loses a shoe, and the Russians flee.
“I was almost frozen by the time we left the set,” Sirico recalled in 2019. “Have a great time, and I really appreciate you guys who watch the show and love it. And for those who haven’t, f— go yourself.”
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Paulie was a constant source of tough love on the show, providing Christopher with the coldest lines during minor character interventions. In another meeting, when Christopher asked Paulie if he thought “nothing good is going to happen”, Sirico withstood the answer altogether: “Yeah, and didn’t do anything. So what? “
“We got a slot in Christopher and Paulie and I’m proud to say I had my best and funniest job with my dear friend Tony,” Imperioli wrote on Friday. “I will miss her forever. She is truly irreplaceable.”
Sirico continued to play gangster roles after “The Sopranos”, even as a cheesy version of himself on “Family Guy” and as a mobster in “A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa”. appeared in
Sirico is survived by several siblings, including his two children, Joan Sirico Bello and Richard Sirico, grandsons, and his brother, the Rev. Robert Sirico.
Robert Said his brother’s funeral would be held in Brooklyn on Wednesday, This is where Tony Sirico was rooted.
“I was born and raised in Brooklyn,” He told The News In 2012, “And I’m still alive and I’ll die in Brooklyn.”
with Brian Niemietzo