Tony Sirico, who portrayed an aging and wisecracking gangster on the HBO hit show "The Sopranos," has died, his manager said. He was 79.
The actor died Friday morning at an assisted living home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, his longtime manager Bob McGowan said.
Sirico burst on the scene late in his career as "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri, a character marked by gray-streaked hair, twisted street wisdom, and the inevitable deterioration of physical strength.
In real life, McGowan said, “He was so tough but so gentle.”
Sirico was an Army veteran who would help anyone and always gave to charities, he said.
The cause of death was not immediately known.
"He couldn’t remember things as the years passed, he had been in failing health," McGowan said.
Fellow "Sopranos" actor Michael Imperioli mourned the loss of his former co-star in Instagram post Friday.
"Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big hearted as anyone i’ve ever known," Imperioli said. "I was at his side through so much: through good times and bad. But mostly good."
Sirico had a long career of character acting and bit parts, roles with names such as Poker Player, Frankie, and Tough Guy, before the Sopranos debuted in 1999.
He had an ongoing presence in Woody Allen films in the 1990s, which feature Sirico in bit parts at least four times. He also had a small role in Martin Scorsese's 1990 film "Goodfellas."
But when he read for the "Sopranos," he said, he knew it would change his world.
"When I first read David Chase's script, I knew this was special," Sirico told the New York Daily News in 1999. "This is what I'd been looking for all my life."
There were no A-listers on the emo-mob show — not even close. But Sirico knew it was a crew of actors dedicated to the art.
"When I heard James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli and Nancy Marchand were in it, I knew it was going to be a total class act," he told the Daily News. "I knew right away this was a role to kill for."
He recalled that he was denied the role he read for, Uncle Junior, which was landed by Dominic Chianese. But Chase offered him Paulie Walnuts, an enforcer who could be icy when a job was at hand.
Imperioli recalled Sirico as a high-level collaborator on-set.
"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 said on Instagram. "I will miss him forever. He is truly irreplaceable."
On "The Sopranos," Paulie Walnuts was a source of street wisdom and keen observation. Speaking about the explosion in coffee roasters, he lamented that Italian Americans weren't generally the ones getting rich or getting credit when lattes and espressos were sold.
"How did we miss out on this?" the character said on the six-season franchise. " ... It's not just the money. It's the pride thing."
Paulie Walnuts resonated in pop culture, and Sirico reprised the role by making fun of it on the animated comedy "Family Guy."
The Brooklyn native was never a gangster, but he was no stranger to crime. He did time in New York's notorious Sing Sing Correctional Facility, where he said he saw a traveling troupe of ex-cons called the Theater of the Forgotten and decided that was his calling.
He said he earned his Screen Actors Guild card in 1974 shortly after his release from prison.
His acting career included portraying 40 gangsters and five crooked police officers, Sirico has said.
Sirico’s brother, Father Robert Sirico, echoed on his Facebook page that Gennaro Anthony “Tony” Sirico passed Friday.
“The family is deeply grateful for the many expressions of love, prayer and condolences and requests that the public respect its privacy in this time of bereavement,” his brother said on Facebook.
He said Sirico's passing brought him great sadness, but reflecting on his life brings "pride, love and a whole lot of fond memories."
Tony Sirico is survived by two children, Joanne Sirico Bello and Richard Sirico, as well as by grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and other relatives, his brother said.
His brother said arrangements have been made for a Wednesday morning service in Brooklyn, New York.