Tony Sirico, Rest in Peace

Tony Sirico, the infamous actor who played Paulie Walnuts on the The Sopranos, died last Friday at the age of 79. I will never forget the time I encountered Mr. Sirico and his running buddy, James Gandolfini, Jr.
In 2008, I was a senior at West Point, and I had the opportunity to attend a Wounded Warriors event in New York City with some of my classmates. We were in our “full dress” uniforms which we only donned for the most formal of occasions. Of course, our unique and historical military attire attracted attention from those at the function. After several brief interactions with civilians and other military members, I caught a glimpse of Mr. Sirico and Mr. Gandolfini standing at the bar by themselves.
I had seen a few episodes of The Sopranos, and I knew it was one of my dad’s favorite shows. With no one else around them and feeling some confidence in my full dress uniform, I decided to approach the celebrity actors. What the heck, right?
As I anxiously approached, they slowly shifted their gaze to me and gave me the type of soft smiles that no one would expect from two big time actors. As we exchanged pleasantries, Mr. Sirico and Mr. Gandolfini quickly shifted the focus of our conversation to West Point. They were very interested in our military training.
Surprised by their curiosity, I went into detail regarding the difficult training regimen that cadets endure throughout the 47 month experience at the academy. I discussed our intense physical training, weapons expertise, small unit experience and other skills. I guess you could say I was feeling a little “big for my britches.”
After blabbering on for 5-10 minutes, Mr. Sirico nodded his head in approval and quietly asked me, almost under his breath, “Do they teach you any hand to hand combat?”
Excited by his follow-up question, I proudly announced my proficiency in boxing, combatives and mixed martial arts. As I concluded another long winded explanation of our training, I was caught off guard by Mr. Sirico’s closed fist coming straight into my face.
Yep, Paulie Walnuts smacked me right in the jaw. And let’s just say that it wasn’t a playful punch. In his New York accent, he asked me, “where were you on that one, huh?”
Shocked by what just took place at such a formal event, I looked up at the actors to find big smirks on their faces. All I could do was smile and check to make sure nothing was broken.
I didn’t really know what to say or do after that exchange, but I did decide to keep my words to a minimum from that point on. All in all, Mr. Sirico and Mr. Gandolfini were great guys and expressed their gratitude for my service. They even took a picture with my classmate and me.
My interaction with Mr. Sirico was just a blip in time, but he taught me a few valuable lessons that night:

  1. Speak with purpose, but be short and succinct when talking about yourself.
    2. If you talk a big game, you better be able to back it up. As they say “,Be humble, or be humbled.”
    3. Never mess around with the mafia (even if they are actors.)

    Rest in Peace Tony Sirico aka “Paulie Walnuts”

    —Ryan Brence

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Skip to content