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Tony Sirico, famed "Sopranos" actor, dies at age 79

FILE PHOTO: Actor Tony Sirico
Actor Tony Sirico attends an HBO premiere event in New York, May 5, 2012. Andrew Burton / REUTERS

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

"A great, loyal client," manager Bob McGowan wrote. "He would do anything to help people in need."

McGowan did not provide a cause of death. 

McGowan also sent CBS News a Facebook post from Sirico's brother, Robert Sirico, who wrote that he was announcing Sirico's death "with great sadness, but with incredible pride, love and a whole lot of fond memories." 

Sirico was born in Brooklyn in 1942. According to his IMDB profile, he first appeared on screen in 1977 and rose to prominence years later for his roles in films like "Goodfellas." But his major break came in "The Sopranos," where he played "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri, a fiery, loyal and ill-tempered soldier to New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini. The wise-cracking Walnuts was violent and often ruthless.   

In a 2019 interview with the cast, Sirico said that "The Sopranos" creator David Chase was so impressed with his audition for a different role, that of an 80-year-old man, that Chase created the character of Paulie Walnuts specifically for him.

"When I went in initially to audition for David, he looked at me, he said, 'sit there.' He put a hat on me. The lines were, 'these kids today.' I'm playing an 80-year-old man," Sirico said.

Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti on "The Sopranos," honored Sirico on Instagram. "Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big hearted as anyone i've ever known," he wrote. 

"I will miss him forever," Imperioli wrote. "He is truly irreplaceable." 

Actress Lorraine Bracco, who starred with Sirico in both "Goodfellas" and "The Sopranos," paid tribute as well Friday, calling him "a stand up guy who always had my back and who loved my children and my parents."

"I hope he's in heaven cracking everybody up now," she added. "Love you, my in peace." 

Sirico is survived by his two children, Joanne 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, Sirico's brother said donations could be sent to Wounded Warriors, St. Jude's Hospital and the Acton Institute.

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