How 'Sopranos' Tony Sirico's Real Criminal Career Helped His Acting Career
Sadly, Tony Sirico passed away on Friday at the age of 79; the late actor was best known for playing Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos and Tony Stacks in Goodfellas – and far less well-known for playing “Captain Salie” in the movie Jersey Shore Shark Attack, also featuring his Goodfellas co-star Paul Sorvino, and Joey Fatone (who we’re pretty sure wasn’t in Goodfellas).
Plus, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the time Sirico and fellow Sopranos cast member Steve Schirripa showed up on Sesame Street as older, way sweatier versions of Bert and Ernie.
Famously, before he got into the business of playing fake gangsters, Sirico was a real-life crook, boasting 28 arrests; the first of which came at the age of seven for “stealing nickels from the newstand.” In a 1990 Los Angeles Times profile, Sirico bragged about how he had a “formidable neighborhood reputation as a stick-up artist” when he was younger, and had been “nabbed on innumerable occasions for disorderly conduct, robbery and other criminal offenses.”
Of course, transitioning from being a career criminal to a working actor is somewhat unusual (it usually happens in the reverse sequence) but oddly, Sirico’s robbery days actually helped prepare him for the world of show business. How? Well, it seems that he “drew on various acting skills” in order to hold-up banks; specifically donning wigs and fake mustaches before a heist. So in a way, being a bank robber was kind of like working in the theater, only he actually got paid.
Unfortunately, one time Sirico got “busted” for wearing the “wrong wig” after he showed up to one bank in the same costume he’d worn to rob the same bank just a week earlier; according to Sirico: “they welcomed me with open arms and open handcuffs!” At least he was able to take some of those early skills and use them decades later to, say, pretend to beat the crap out of a couple of gardeners. R.I.P.
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