Tony Sirico as “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri, mob captain and Army veteran
Kearny, New Jersey, Late Fall 2007
Series: The Sopranos
Episode: “Made in America” (Episode 6.21)
Air Date: June 10, 2007
Director: David Chase
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This weekend, fans of The Sopranos mourned the death of Tony Sirico, who had played the eccentric gangster “Paulie Walnuts” in addition to appearances in movies like Goodfellas, Dead Presidents, and Cop Land.
Sirico was born July 29, 1942 in Brooklyn, beginning a colorful life that would be paralleled by his character’s succinct autobiography as shared in a third-season episode:
I was born, grew up, spent a few years in the Army, a few more in the can, and here I am: a half a wise guy.
Following more than two dozen arrests, Sirico was serving a 20-month sentence at Sing Sing when his encounter with an acting troupe of ex-convicts convinced him to try acting. From his first screen appearance as an extra in the 1974 crime film Crazy Joe, Sirico brought his real-life experience to most frequently portraying gangsters—and the occasional cop—before landing the role of Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos.
Sirico had initially auditioned for the role of Uncle Junior but, on the condition that David Chase assure him Paulie would never turn “rat”, accepted a different role that very quickly began to mirror Sirico himself, from Paulie’s own background to his penchant for gray-winged hair, white loafers, and pinky rings. On Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa’s podcast Talking Sopranos, writer Terence Winter recalled how Sirico was just as idiosyncratic yet intimidating as his character, cornering him on the first day with his expectations: “You’re the new writer? Let me tell you something. If you ever write a script where I die? First, I die. Then you die.”
Though series star James Gandolfini hadn’t lived to see the renewed wave of Sopranos fandom in the age of podcasts and events like SopranosCon, Sirico had the opportunity to see firsthand the impact that his performance had on scores of fans. Following years of declining health advanced by dementia, Sirico died last Friday, July 8, three weeks before his 80th birthday.
True to Sirico’s demands for the character, Paulie emerged as one of the few series gangsters to remain definitively alive by the end of the series, even if his prospects beyond there may not be promising. (As with everything, there’s a Reddit thread for that! I invite readers to follow the theories present in this post.)
With most of his crew being wiped out either through arrest or assassination, family boss Tony finally looks to the stalwart gangster Paulie to step up and lead one of his most prominent crews… only to be shocked when the vocally ambitious Paulie chooses to pass, believing leadership of the crew to be doomed to an early death.
Tony: Alright, you don’t want the job, then you don’t want the job. I could put Patsy in there, he’s going to be a part of my family now, it’ll be good.
Paulie: (shaking his head) Prick… you always know what to say to me, don’t you?
Tony: I’m serious.
Paulie: I live but to serve you, my liege.
Perhaps the final victim of Tony’s sociopathic manipulations, Paulie finally gives in and agrees to take the cursed capo position. Tony—and the audience—leave him just as we first met him, sunning himself on a folding chair outside the pork store… though the early winter weather is far from the sunny afternoon of the pilot episode, with the potential specter of death present in the form of the lingering cat which may or may not be the reincarnation of Christopher Moltisanti.
What’d He Wear?
Neither the late autumnal chill nor the target seemingly placed on every Jersey made man’s back can stop Paulie Walnuts from his preferred pastime of sunning himself outside the pork store, though he does take measures to keep warm by layering under and over one of his trademark tracksuits.
Rather than just wearing the tracksuit over a sleeveless undershirt, as Paulie and his pals are wont to do are warmer days, he wears a soft creamy white cashmere sweater with a finely ribbed mock-neck, a comfortable style that had been featured in both short- and long-sleeved variations by the mobbed-up characters of the Soprano-verse.
One of The Sopranos‘ most prolific tracksuit aficionados, Paulie debuts a newly seen warmup suit for his final appearance on screen. According to its listing at The Golden Closet, this marone—er, maroon—velour tracksuit was made by Alan Stuart, a now-defunct menswear designer dating back to the ’80s that made several pieces that would appear in Paulie Walnuts’ wardrobe across the series.
Both the jacket and trousers are primarily burgundy, though the zip-up track jacket also boasts a black velour shirt-style collar and black side panels down the front, which are piped with a white stripe along the side nearest the center. The cuffs and hem are elasticized for a blouson-like fit appearance, and vertical-entry hand pockets are set-in against each black side panel. The jacket appears to be at least partially lined in a white piled fleece along the inside of the neck, adding more insulation that would make it an even more appropriately comfortable piece for this cooler day in Kearny.
All that shows of the track pants are solid burgundy, though they’re likely finished with an elasticized waistband and hand pockets.
Paulie’s top layer is one of his many leather jackets, made from a black leather outer shell with the collar, cuffs, and hem finished in a black ribbed-knit material. The silver-finished zipper extends up from hem to neck, though Paulie wears the jacket totally open and with the collar folded down and the tracksuit collar worn over it. The jacket’s slanted side pockets each close with a zipper.
The ribbed cuffs of Paulie’s jacket cover his wrists, so we can’t see his usual gold chain-link bracelet on his right wrist or his gold-finished steel Movado Esperanza wristwatch with its open-link bracelet around his left wrist, but his animated responses to Tony’s questions flash that familiar gold ring proudly placed on his right pinky ringer, its black squared stone flashing as he outlines his rationale for not accepting the offered promotion.
At the start of The Sopranos‘ second season, Ilene Rosenzweig had interviewed Tony Sirico for the New York Times article “Ba-Da-Bing! Thumbs Up for the Pinkie Ring”, during which he explained that he’d been wearing these rings for more than thirty years:
Mr. Sirico was discussing his pinkie ring, the same one he wears when playing Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos, the HBO mob opera that started its second season last week. “They say Mafia wear pinkie rings, but men of style wear pinkie rings,” Mr. Sirico said. “So long as they’re not gaudy and the man has a nice hand — not too feminine a hand.” Mr. Sirico, who favors what he called a “sexy” black onyx look, said he was unaware that pinkie rings had gone out of style.
After watching Paulie almost exclusively wear his white leather loafers for season after season, “Remember When” (Episode 6.15) finally took us into Paulie’s closet where audiences could spy at least four pairs of these comfortable-looking shoes with the manufacturer’s name, Vikings, printed on the insole. A favorite of Sirico’s in real life (of course), these comfortable-looking slip-on shoes have white leather uppers with a split toe and top-stitching that follows the curve of the front quarters over the insteps. Given his stated distaste for shoelaces, we shouldn’t be surprised that Paulie almost exclusively wears non-laced loafers.
How to Get the Look
Our last look at Paulie Gualtieri features many of Tony Sirico’s signature style contributions to the character, including a velour tracksuit, white shoes, and the ever-present pinky ring, layered with a mock-neck sweater and black leather jacket as the series timeline enters winter… and the winter of Paulie’s years.
- Black leather blouson jacket with ribbed-knit collar, cuffs, and hem, zip-up front, and zip-up slanted side pockets
- Burgundy velour zip-up track jacket with black collar, white-piped black side panels (with vertical-entry hand pockets), and white fleece lining
- Burgundy velour track pants
- Cream cashmere mock-neck sweater
- White leather split-toe Vikings loafers
- Movado Esperanza 0607059 gold-coated stainless steel watch with black minimalist dial on gold-finished “free-falling” open-link bracelet
- Gold pinky ring with black onyx rectangular stone
Do Yourself a Favor and…
For fans of the show, I always recommend picking up a copy of The Soprano Sessions by Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall.
Finally, feel free to share your favorite Sirico tributes shared across social media over the weekend, as many fans and friends of the actor have:
View this post on Instagram
The right way to honor Tony Sirico is to go to Jersey and get just batshit insane lost in the woods.
— Kashana (@kashanacauley) July 8, 2022
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. pic.twitter.com/pAkDnqfLEs
— 🕉Stevie Van Zandt☮️ (@StevieVanZandt) July 8, 2022
RIP, Tony Sirico. A walk down “Paulie Walnuts” memory lane… pic.twitter.com/tGpoHe28aT
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) July 8, 2022