Sopranos actor Tony Sirico dies aged 79

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Sirico, pictured with James GandolfiniImage source, Getty Images

Actor Tony Sirico, best known for his role as a mafia henchman on the The Sopranos, has died aged 79.

He memorably portrayed Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri, a fictional mobster playing a key role in an organised crime ring in the US state of New Jersey.

Co-star Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti, led tributes to him.

"Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big hearted as anyone I've ever known," he said.

Imperioli wrote on Instagram that the two actors "found a groove as Christopher and Paulie".

"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."

Sirico was 55 years old and sleeping on a cot at his mother's house in Brooklyn when he was cast in the iconic role that would win him two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

He played gangsters in more than a dozen other mob movies, including Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas.

His brother, Father Anthony Sirico, posted on Facebook that he is survived by his two children as well as grandchildren and "many other relatives".

Sirico was born in Brooklyn, New York, and was arrested 28 times - spending two stretches in prison.

Speaking to the LA Times in 1990, he said: "Where I grew up, every guy was trying to prove himself. You either had to have a tattoo or a bullet hole."

Actor James Caan, who died on Thursday, was quoted saying of his long-time friend: "He's been able to romanticise his past, throw in a few bangles and sparkles and use it as an actor."

"What you see is really him - he just adds a little pepper, a little cayenne, to spice it up."

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

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