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Tony Sirico, Paulie on The Sopranos, dies at 79

Tony Sirico, known for his tough guy roles in films and in the TV series The Sopranos, dies at 79 

Sirico was born in New York City and grew up in the Flatbush and Bensonhurst neighborhoods (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

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Tony Sirico, who played the impeccably groomed mobster Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos and brought his tough-guy swagger to films including Goodfellas, died Friday. He was 79.

Sirico died at an assisted living facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said his manager, Bob McGowen. There was no immediate information on the cause of death.

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A statement from Sirico's family confirmed the death of Gennaro Anthony “Tony” Sirico “with great sadness, but with incredible pride, love and a whole lot of fond memories.”

McGowan, who represented Sirico for more than two decades, recalled him as “loyal and giving,” with a strong philanthropic streak. That included helping ex-soldiers' causes, which hit home for the Army veteran, his manager said.

Sirico was unconcerned about being cast in a string of bad guy roles, McGowan said, most prominently that of Paulie 'Walnuts' Gualtieri in the 1999-2007 run of the acclaimed HBO drama starring James Gandolfini as mob boss Tony Soprano.

“He didn't mind playing a mob guy, but he wouldn't play an informant,” or as Sirico put it, a “snitch,” McGowan said.

Sirico, born July 29, 1942, in New York City, grew up in the Flatbush and Bensonhurst neighborhoods where he said "every guy was trying to prove himself. You either had to have a tattoo or a bullet hole.”

“I had both,” he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1990 interview, calling himself ”unstable" during that period of his life. He was arrested repeatedly for criminal offenses, he said, and was in prison twice. In his last stint behind bars, in the 1970s, he saw a performance by a group of ex-convicts and caught the acting bug.

“I watched ’em and I thought, ‘I can do that.’ I knew I wasn’t bad looking. And I knew I had the (guts) to stand up and (bull) people," he told the Times. "You get a lot of practice in prison. I used to stand up in front of these cold-blooded murderers and kidnapers — and make ’em laugh.”

Sirico also was cast outside the gangster mold, playing police officers in the films Dead Presidents and Deconstructing Harry. Among his other credits were Woody Allen films including Bullets over Broadway and Mighty Aphrodite, and appearances on TV series including Miami Vice and voice roles on Family Guy and American Dad.

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