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Actor Tony Sirico, known for his role as Paulie Walnuts in the popular American television show ‘The Sopranos,” died Friday at 79, his family and manager announced.
Sirico – who grew up around the Italian mobsters he later portrayed in a number of films and shows – died Friday morning at an assisted-living facility in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., according to Bob McGowan, his manager of 25 years. McGowan said he did not know the cause of death.
“He was a really good guy,” McGowan said, adding that Sirico “always gave to charities” and visited hospitals to comfort children.
In a Facebook post the actor’s brother, Robert Sirico, said: “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.”
Michael Imperioli, Sirico’s co-star who played Christopher Moltisanti on “The Sopranos,” posted a photo of the duo on Instagram Friday evening, writing that he was “heartbroken today.”
“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,” Imperioli’s post said. “I will miss him forever.”
On “The Sopranos” – which Rolling Stone rated as the greatest TV show of all time in 2016 – Sirico played the violent henchman to mobster Tony Soprano, shaking down rivals and doing his boss’s dirty work when asked.
Sirico was a natural fit for the part, having grown up in the Italian mob world himself. Born in New York City in 1942, he was arrested 28 times beginning at age 7, he told the Los Angeles Times in 1990.
“After all the times I was pinched, I knew every judge in town,” he told the publication. “In our neighbourhood, if you weren’t carrying a gun, it was like you were the rabbit during rabbit-hunting season.”
“He was that person,” McGowan said of Sirico’s character on “The Sopranos.” “He grew up with that world.”
During his last prison stay in the early 1970s, the Times reported, he saw a performance by a group of ex-con actors that inspired him.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Sirico played the kind of gangsters he grew up around, appearing in minor roles in some of the most influential mobster films, including Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” He had acted in 27 films by 1990 and died in 13 of them, he told the Times that year.
He landed the role as Paulie on “The Sopranos” in 1999, ultimately appearing in nearly every episode of its six-season run.
McGowan said Sirico was an Army veteran and longtime supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project. In 2010, Sirico and his “Sopranos” co-star James Gandolfini joined chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen for a USO tour visiting troops across the Middle East.
Sirico is survived by his two children, Joanne Sirico Bello and Richard Sirico, siblings, grandchildren, and other relatives, his brother wrote on Facebook.
Stevie Van Zandt, who played Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos,” tweeted Friday that Sirico was “legendary” in his role as “Silvio’s best buddy” on the show.
“A larger than life character on and off screen,” Zandt wrote. “Gonna miss you a lot my friend.”