Tony Sirico, a once-struggling actor who achieved eternal fame for the role of Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri in HBO's "The Sopranos," has died, his manager told the press on Friday. He was 79.

Born in Brooklyn, Sirico appeared in several gangster movies, including "Goodfellas." But it was his role as Tony Soprano's New Jersey mob capo for which he'll long be remembered.

Emmys Insider Trophy Table
Tony Sirico from the TV series the Sopranos, left, talks with Entertainment Tonight reporter Mary Hart at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

He once told an interviewer that he originally tried out for the part of Uncle Junior in David Chase's drama.

In an interview with Deadline in 2019, he said he agreed to the recurring role as long as the character would never be written to be a "rat."

Tony Sirico, James Gandolfini
Tony Sirico, left, and James Gandolfini hold their awards for best ensemble in a drama for their work in "The Sopranos" at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

"I come from the streets. I been in the Army, I been everywhere," he said. "I wouldn’t play a rat if you put a gun to my head and if you did put a gun to my head, you better empty it."

Sirico was remembered by Michael Imperioli, the actor who played Tony Soprano's ill-fated nephew Christopher Moltisanti, as a "dear friend, colleague and partner in crime."

"Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big hearted as anyone i’ve ever known. I was at his side through so much: through good times and bad. But mostly good. And we had a lot of laughs," Imperioli said on Instagram.

"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."

Michael Gandolfini, the son of the late James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano, remembered Sirico as kind and "fiercely loyal."

"He was always Uncle Tony to me, and Tony always showed up for me and my family. I’ll deeply miss his pinches on my cheek, and his infectious laugh. He was a phenomenal actor and an even better man," Gandolfini said on Instagram.

"Tony was one of a kind. He touched many with his gift and my heart goes out to his family, his friends, and all of his fans. We love you Tony, thank you for all the joy you brought to many. You will be missed."

Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico
Michael Imperioli, left, and Tony Sirico attend HBO's "The Sopranos" 20th anniversary at the SVA Theatre on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Sergio Bichao is the digital managing editor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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