Genaro Anthony “Tony” Sirico Jr. (born July 29, 1942) played Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, my favorite member of “The Sopranos” fictional New Jersey mob family. In the above YouTube bit, you can see a compilation of some of Paulie’s funniest highlights from the series.
According to published reports, what may have helped Sirico to so ace his role is the fact that he did more than act like a mobster — for a time he supposedly was one.
“I lived through the seventies by the skin of my nuts when the Colombos were goin’ at it.”
Wikipedia reports that, before turning to acting, Sirico “was reportedly a fast-rising mob associate of the Colombo crime family, serving under Carmine ‘Junior’ Persico, and had been arrested 28 times.”
A Sopranos reference seems to give nod to this fact: the episode near the end of the last season in which Paulie Walnuts says, “I lived through the seventies by the skin of my nuts when the Colombos were goin’ at it.”
What is factual is that in 1967, Sirico was sent to prison for about a year for robbing a Brooklyn after-hours club. In 1971, he pled guilty to felony weapons possession and was sentenced to an “indeterminate” prison term of up to four years, of which Sirico ended up serving 20 months.
In an interview in Cigar Aficionado magazine, Sirico said that during his imprisonment, he was visited by an acting troupe composed of ex-cons, which inspired him to give acting a try.
Sirico currently lives in Brooklyn, New York; he had lived with his mother up until she died in 2003. His brother, Robert Sirico, is a Catholic priest and co-founder of the free-market Acton Institute.
According to The Sopranos, A Family History, “Peter Paul Gualtieri, son of Gennaro Gualtieri (although Paulie’s biological father was later revealed to be a World War II era soldier named “Russ”), has been a troubled street kid from the age of nine. He dropped out of school after the 9th grade and spent time in and out of juvenile correctional facilities during his early youth. When he was 17 he officially became an enforcer/bodyguard for “Johnny Boy” Soprano, Tony’s father and captain in the DiMeo crime family.
“… Eventually, he worked his way up through the DiMeo crime family, reaching the rank of Captain in 2000, shortly after Anthony ‘Tony’ Soprano became Boss of New Jersey. In 2006, Paulie was promoted to Underboss, and Christopher Moltisanti was put in charge of Paulie’s crew, which earlier was Tony’s crew. Paulie got his nickname ‘Paulie Walnuts’ due to hijacking a truck in the early 1990s which he believed to be filled with television-sets, but only contained walnuts. His surname is taken from real life DeCavalcante crime family mobster Frank Gualtieri, who served under Vincent Palermo.
“Paulie is one of the most colorful characters on the show. Portrayed as a psychopath with little empathy, Paulie is highly paranoid and often refers to the supernatural things he experiences, like déjà vu, seeing the Virgin Mary, and especially his constant fear of death, either natural or probable. Paulie has displayed kindness and loyalty, and usually cracks jokes. However, despite his seniority, Paulie is one of the more eccentric of Tony’s associates and is arguably one of the most ruthless, as expressed by his paranoia, mysophobia, competitiveness, miserly nature, impulsive violence and often childlike dependence on Tony’s approval.
Murders committed by Paulie
|Charles “Sonny” Pagano||mid-1960s||Paulie “made his bones” (performed his first contract/ordered killing) by murdering Pagano.||From Where to Eternity*|
|Gallegos||1999||Shot in the forehead by Paulie for operating a drug business within DiMeo Family territory.||A Hit Is a Hit|
|Mikey “Grab Bag” Palmice||1999||Executed in the woods by Paulie and Christopher for conspiring with Junior to kill Tony & for killing Brendan Filone.||I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano|
|Big Pussy Bonpensiero||2000||Killed on Tony’s boat by Paulie, Silvio, and Tony for being an FBI informant.||Funhouse|
|Valery||2001||Possibly killed for attacking Paulie and Christopher. Apparently shot in the head. Though officially, according to HBO, his fate is ultimately unknown||Pine Barrens|
|Minn Matrone||2002||Suffocated with a pillow in her apartment, after she caught him searching her bedroom for cash.||Eloise|
|Raoul the Waiter||2004||Shot by Paulie after suffering blunt force trauma from a brick thrown at his head by Christopher after a brief argument with them.||Two Tonys|
|Colombian #1||2006||Shot in the neck by Paulie and Cary De Bartolo during an armed robbery.||Mayham|
|Colombian #2||2006||Shot in the chest by Cary De Bartolo and then stabbed by Paulie during armed robbery.||Mayham|