Actor Tony Sirico, who played the unforgettable Mafia soldier Polly “Gualtieri” the nut in “The Sopranos,” was 79 when he died — just weeks before his 80th birthday.
But he’s already a legend in the eyes of countless fans of the show, from New Jersey to whatever planet Paulie belongs to.
Paulie Walnuts, Tony Soprano’s longtime right-hand man, has risen from a captain in the DiMeo crime family to become a major on David Chase’s popular HBO series.
The character, created by Chase specifically for Siriko, was distinguished by his devotion to jersey boss Tony (“tone”), his incomparable strong play and silver-white “wings” that flew through his dark hair at the temples, making him look like some kind of mafia superhero.. Or a super villain.
Sirico’s raw performance has made him beloved by legions of “Sopranos” fans, and for good reason.
Pauli wore his heart and grudge up his sleeve – ingenuity was nothing. But in Sirico’s hands, the character avoided becoming a cartoon. It was as real as it gets. He could be downright terrifying, a cold, unrelenting killer. He may also be painfully weak, and he’s gotten some of the biggest laughs in the entire series.
Sirico’s brother, Robert Sirico, a pastor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, announced Tony’s death Friday on Facebook.
“With great sadness, but with incredible pride, love and many cherished memories, the family of Gennaro Anthony ‘Tony’ Sirico would like to inform you of his passing on the morning of July 8, 2022,” he said. . The cause of death was not specified.
Sirico, who hails from Brooklyn, played Pauly as a long-paid man as a loyal executor of the sopranos. He’s also a thorn in Tony’s side, thanks to his constant grievances.
The steadfast mafia soldier is not so much a comical relief as a reflection of the vast showground: nothing less than life, death and the meaning of it all — even if it’s all (in the words of Tony’s mother Livia) “nothing big.”
Polly fears death and becomes haunted by the spirits he kills. He could be shaken to the core, for example, by seeing the Virgin Mary in a strip club. And he can also be quite funny—like when he mistook, thanks to Tony’s shaky dial in the “Pine Barnes” episode, between a former Russian commando and the Home Office as an “interior designer.”
A clip that contains profanity
As portrayed in the previous 2021 Sopranos movie The Many Saints of Newark, Paulie got his start in the mafia when he was young, first working as an enforcer for Tony’s father, Giovanni “Johnny Boy” Soprano. Billy Magnussen played the role of young Polly in the film. Magnussen modeled his delivery after Sirico in the series.
David Chase and the book “The Sopranos” modeled a portion of Paulie on Sirico himself, including his speaking style and absolute devotion to his mother, Nucci Gualtieri (Frances Ismbellari).
Initially, Sirico was one of the many actors competing for the role of Tony’s nemesis – Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese). Chase called him to say he didn’t get the role, but told him to hold on.
“But I thought of something for you,” Sirico remembers, telling the series creator as part of a 2019 interview with “Today” on the show’s 20th anniversary. “I want you on the show. I haven’t decided what you’re going to do or who you’re going to be.”
“I said, ‘Yeah, well, sure,'” said Sirico. “I hung up. I didn’t know if he was pulling my pretzel…An hour later, he called me and said, ‘You’re Polly and the Gollnuts. You’re in the show.'”
Sirico, a former New York club owner, brought a very subtle originality to the role. Before he became an actor, he was arrested 28 times and spent 20 months in prison at Sing Sing after being indicted in 1971 on charges including weapons possession and extortion. He discovered acting in prison, when former fraudsters visited the facility.
His first role was in “Crazy Joe” in 1974, about the New York mob boss “Crazy” Joe Gallo.
Sirico made his first television roles in the late 1970s and went on to film roles in the 1980s and 1990s. Sirico often played mafia credible characters or strongmen.
He had roles in Academy Award-winning films including Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1990, as Tony Stax) and Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite” (1995) as well as “Dead Heads” (1995), and Allen’s films Everyone Says I Love You” (1996), “Deconstructing Harry” (1997) and “Café Society” (2016), as well as “Mickey Blue Eyes” (1999), among many other films and TV series.
Siriko played Pauli throughout the series “The Sopranos” over six seasons, from 1999 to 2007.
Years after The Sopranos, he voiced Vinnie the dog in the animated series “Family Guy”.
Sirico stayed in touch with “Sopranos” fans long after the series’ 2007 series finale, including when the series saw a surge of fan interest in the lead-up to “The Many Saints of Newark.”
In 2019, he held court at SopranosCon, a large gathering of fans and former cast members in the Meadowlands where people either tattooed Paulie Walnuts or dressed like the character, complete with a white sleeveless shirt, red suspenders, gold chain and track pants.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are discovering or revisiting “The Sopranos” and Sirico’s untouchable performance as Paulie on broadcast.
Many of Sirico’s “Sopranos” stars remembered him on social media on Friday.
“Tony wasn’t like everyone else,” Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Multisanti, Polly’s recurring partner in the scene, said in an Instagram post. “He was as strong, loyal, and big-hearted as anyone I’ve ever known. I’ve been by his side a lot: good times and bad. But mostly good. And we had loads of laughs. We’ve found groove like Christopher and Polly and I’m proud to say I’ve done so many of my best.” Business and most fun with my dear friend Tony. I will miss him forever. He is truly irreplaceable.”
Lauren Bracco, who played Dr. Jennifer Melfi in “The Sopranos,” memorialized Sirico with pictures of them together and a heartfelt message.
“I adore Tony Sirico,” she said. “A man standing there who always supported me and loved my kids and my parents. I have lifelong memories with Tony – from Goodfellas to The Sopranos and beyond – but oh my gosh, did we enjoy doing Bensonhurst Spelling Bee – I still laugh. Hope he’s in heaven hitting everyone now I love you, my friend… rest in peace.”
Stephen van Zandt, who played Silvio Dante, remembered Sirico in “The Sopranos” and his role in another series where they co-starred: Netflix’s “Lilyhammer.”
He said of the actor “legendary”. “Best friend of Silvio “Paulie Walnuts” in The Sopranos, older brother of Frankie “The Fixer” Antonino “Father Tony” Tagliano in Lilyhammer. A larger than life character on and off screen. I will miss you so much, my friend.”
Steve Sherpa, who played Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri on the show, posted a photo from his “Sesame Street” appearance with Sirico, when the actor was dressed as Burt, with mono, to Ernie. He thanked him for all the laughs.
Jamie-Lynn Siegler, who played Tony Soprano’s daughter, Mido-Soprano, warmly remembers Sirico as a paternal presence and unique talent, sharing photos of them together over the years.
“Hey, Tony. I feel so sad,” she said. “I loved you so much. I could never get into the room I was in without you hugging me so much, showering me in your cologne, and making sure I knew that any man who approached me would have to answer you first. You have been such a formidable actor. You were stealing every scene you were in. You were a strong, strong but gentle artist and a true artist. There will never be anyone like you. I feel very lucky to have known and loved you.”
Sirico is survived by his daughter, Juan Sirico Bello, and his son, Richard Sirico, as well as his brothers, grandchildren, nephews, and nephews.
Robert Sirico says the family will hold a funeral on July 13 at the Regina Pacis Basilica in Brooklyn.
He says donations could be made in his honor to the Wounded Warrior Project, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Freedom, headed by Robert Sirico.
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