'The Sopranos' actor Robert Iler on how Tony Sirico protected him on set: 'You tell Uncle Tony, okay?'
Tony Sirico's impact continues to be felt by those who knew and loved "The Sopranos" actor.
While reflecting on his career as a child actor, Robert Iler, who appeared alongside Sirico in the Emmy-winning HBO series, opened up about how Sirico looked out for the young actor. Iler said Sirico's presence on the show's set shielded him from the sexual abuse and mistreatment some child stars are subjected to in the entertainment industry.
"When all the molesting stuff gets talked about, and people always say to me, 'Did anything happen like that on your set? And I’m like, you think Tony Sirico was standing around, if there were people eyeing me the wrong way, like, 'Oh, Rob looks cute today,' Tony Sirico is just gonna stand there?" said Iler during an appearance on the Pod Yourself A Gun podcast.
The 37-year-old former actor continued: "Once we did the second or third episode, Tony Sirico just came over to me and said, 'Hey, uh, if anybody ever bothers you or anybody says anything, you tell Uncle Tony, okay?’ And that’s how I felt in school. Like I was 13 years old and I was like, ‘Oh, this kid thinks he’s gonna mouth off to me? I’ll have Tony Sirico come down.
"No matter how old you are, you see somebody who has like black hair here and silver hair on the sides — and just the way (Sirico) always had a handkerchief in his pocket — you’re like, ‘This dude will (expletive) you up.' "
Background: 'Sopranos' actor Tony Sirico, known for role as Paulie Walnuts, dead at 79
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Sirico died Friday at 79, his manager Bob McGowan confirmed to USA TODAY, saying in a statement that Sirico "was a great and loyal client, he would help anyone in need," adding that he was a "big contributor to the wounded warriors and other charities."
Sirico's brother pays tribute during funeral service
On Wednesday, a funeral was held for the actor at the Basilica of Regina Pacis in Brooklyn, New York, where his brother, the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, spoke during the service.
"On behalf of Joanne and Richard, Tony’s children, and our entire family, I wish to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude for the overwhelming, loving support and prayers that people from around the world have communicated to us in various ways," Robert said. "This love has been a source of great consolation to us in a very difficult time."
He continued: "To Tony’s colleagues who have been with him in his professional capacity, to his loyal and exuberant fans, to those who have taken such good care of him and shown so much love to him over the years, we say thank you from the bottom of our hearts."
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However, while he was there to help honor Sirico's memory, Robert made it clear that he wasn’t there to talk up his late brother.
"It’s not the role of the priest in the funeral homily to eulogize the deceased," he said. "My role, which I take as seriously as Tony took his role in his professional capacity as an actor, is to communicate to you the love of God that comes to us in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, especially when we have to confront death. Death is not the final word in the Christian vocabulary — life is, eternal life, into which my brother has now entered."
Known for playing Peter Paul "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri, Sirico built a reputation for playing gangsters on film and television, including in Martin Scorsese's 1990 mob masterpiece "Goodfellas." He was also a regular presence in Woody Allen films, most notably in his 1994 crime comedy "Bullets Over Broadway."
Other credits throughout Sirico's 45-year screen career include the TV shows "Medium" and "The Grinder." He also voiced a role on multiple episodes of "Family Guy."
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Contributing: Anthony Robledo
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Sopranos' actor Robert Iler recalls protective co-star Tony Sirico