Tony Sirico, legendary “Sopranos” actor, dies at 79

FILE PHOTO: Actor Tony Sirico
Actor Tony Sirico attends the HBO premiere event on May 5, 2012 in New York.

Andrew Burton / REUTERS

Actor Tony Sirico, best known for his memorable turn as mobster “Polly Walnuts” Gualtieri on “The Sopranos,” has died at age 79, his manager told CBS News on Friday.

“A great, loyal customer,” wrote manager Bob McGowan. “He would do anything to help people in need.”

McGowan did not release a cause of death.

McGowan forwarded a Facebook post to CBS News from Sirico’s brother, Robert Sirico, who wrote that he was announcing Sirico’s death “with great sadness, but with incredible pride, love and lots of fond memories.”

Chirico was born in 1942 in Brooklyn. According to his IMDB profile, he first appeared on screen in 1977 and rose to prominence years later for his roles in films such as “Goodfellas.” But his big break came on “The Sopranos,” where he played “Polly Walnuts” Gualtieri, the fiery, loyal and badass henchman of New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini. Wise walnuts were violent and often ruthless.

In a 2019 interview with the cast, Chirico said “The Sopranos” creator David Chase was so impressed with the 80-year-old’s audition for a different role that Chase created the character Polly Walnuts specifically for him. .

“When I initially went to audition for David, he looked at me and said, ‘Sit over there.’ He put a hat on me. The lines were ‘These kids are today.’ I’m playing an 80-year-old man,” Sirico said.

Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti on “The Sopranos,” paid tribute to Chirico on Instagram. “Tony was like no one else: he was tough, loyal and had as big a heart as anyone I’ve ever known,” she wrote.

“I will miss him forever,” Imperioli wrote. “He was truly irreplaceable.”

Actress Lorraine Bracco, who starred with Sirico on both “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos,” also paid tribute Friday, calling him “someone who always had my back and loved my kids and my parents.”

“I hope he’s in heaven now with everyone broken,” he added. “Love you, my friend… Rest in peace.”

Sirico is survived by her two children, Joan Sirico Bello and Richard Sirico, as well as grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and many other relatives, Sirico’s brother said.

While the family requested privacy, Chirico’s brother said donations could be sent to Wounded Warriors, St. Jude’s Hospital and the Acton Institute.

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