Tony Sirico died yesterday, prompting an outpouring of tributes from fans and former co-workers alike—and especially from The Sopranos, where he played mobster Paulie Walnuts across all six seasons of the HBO show.
Said mourners today include series creator David Chase, who (per THR) issued a statement today recognizing what Sirico—who spent years in and out of prison before turning to the world of acting—brought to the part of the temperamental, frequently hilarious Paulie:
Tony was a jewel. The way Buddhists refer to a jewel—supernatural and a master. But certainly not a Zen master. He was so uproarious, so funny, so talented. I’m very happy for him that in his mid-50s and 60s he finally learned how talented and loved he was. I was just thinking about him yesterday, strangely enough, and was reminded that he was a main reason for the success of The Sopranos. I will miss him greatly, Gennaro. As will the world.
Meanwhile, Lorraine Braco—who also appeared alongside Sirico in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas—wrote on Twitter, “A stand up guy who always had my back and who loved my children and my parents. I have a lifetime of memories with Tony–starting with Goodfellas to The Sopranos and way beyond but my God, did we have fun doing the Bensonhurst Spelling Bee. I hope he’s in heaven cracking everybody up now. Love you, my pal.” And see also Steve Van Zandt, who wrote “RIP Tony Sirico. Legendary. Silvio’s best buddy “Paulie Walnuts” in The Sopranos, Frankie “The Fixer’s” older brother Antonino “Father Tony” Tagliano in Lilyhammer. A larger than life character on and off screen. Gonna miss you a lot my friend. Deepest condolences to the family.” These, in addition to a message yesterday from Sirico’s frequent Sopranos scene partner Michael Imperioli, who helped spread news of his death, and wrote about his own heartbreak. “I am proud to say I did a lot of my best and most fun work with my dear pal Tony. I will miss him forever. He is truly irreplaceable.”
In addition to those who worked with him, fans have continued to make their own tributes as well, sharing their favorite Paulie Walnuts quotes, and repeating many of the colorful anecdotes that surrounded Sirico—including an-oft repeated story that his major condition for accepting the role of Paulie was that the show’s writers never make him a rat. And, of course, many people have reposted one of the sweetest, strangest moments of Sirico’s career: When he and Steve Schirripa appeared on Sesame Street, briefly taking over the roles of Bert and Ernie.