According to The Sopranos, A Family History, Peter Paul Gualtieri, son of Gennaro Gualtieri (although Paulie's biological father was later revealed to be a World War II era soldier named "Russ"), has been a troubled street kid from the age of nine. He dropped out of school after the 9th grade and spent time in and out of juvenile correctional facilities during his early youth. When he was 17, he officially became an enforcer/bodyguard for "Johnny Boy" Soprano, Tony's father and captain in the DiMeo crime family. His mother, later discovered to be his aunt, worked at a Krespe's Department store in Newark during Paulie's childhood and early adulthood, but has since retired. Paulie's grandfather, who immigrated to the United States in 1910, is from Ariano Irpino, a municipality in the province of Avellino, in the Campania region of Italy. Paulie's grandfather and Tony's paternal grandparents were from the same province in Italy. Paulie spent four years in the US Army Signal Corps, where he was eventually drummed out through Section 8 (discharged because of psychiatric reasons). Although Paulie did not have a long military career, he is still proud of it, and few of the other characters in the series had military experience. Afterwards, he spent more time in and out of prison on various criminal charges. Eventually, he worked his way up through the DiMeo crime family, reaching the rank of Captain in 2000, shortly after Anthony "Tony" Soprano became Boss of New Jersey. In 2006, Paulie was promoted to Underboss, and Christopher Moltisanti was put in charge of Paulie's crew, which happened to be Tony's crew earlier. Paulie got his nickname "Paulie Walnuts" due to hijacking a truck in the early 1990s which he believed to be filled with television sets, but only contained walnuts.
Paulie is one of the most colorful characters on the show. Often talked about as a reputed psychopath with no heart-feelings, Paulie is highly paranoid and often refers to the supernatural things he experiences, like déjà vu, seeing the Virgin Mary, and especially his constant fear of death, either natural or probable. Paulie has displayed kindness and loyalty, and usually cracks jokes. However, despite his seniority, Paulie is one of the more eccentric of Tony's associates and is arguably one of the most ruthless, as expressed by his paranoia, mysophobia, competitiveness, miserly nature, impulsive violence and often childlike dependence on Tony's approval. In the season one finale, "I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano", Tony told his crew that he had been in therapy for almost a year, when Paulie revealed that he too had seen a therapist, from whom he 'learned some coping skills'. Nevertheless, Paulie is recognized throughout the series as one of the top earners and one of Tony's most trustworthy friends in his "inner circle" of Paulie, Silvio Dante, and Christopher Moltisanti.
Uniquely among his colleagues, Paulie remains single and has no children outside marriage. Unlike most of the other Mafiosi, he shuns the married life. A girlfriend of Paulie's, played by Judy Reyes, is briefly seen in episode 2.9 ("From Where to Eternity"). In a rare moment, Paulie shows compassion for her two children, putting them back to bed, sadly citing he shouldn't keep everyone up, (as he is suffering from nightmares after hearing Christopher talk about his trip to Hell after being shot). She recommends a psychic, but the session ends with Paulie calling the group a bunch of "fucking queers" after the psychic sees the spirit of Charles "Sonny" Pagano - the first guy Paulie ever whacked - together with other spirits, including Mikey Palmice, who supposedly tells the psychic to ask Paulie if the poison ivy, which he caught on his face while chasing (Palmice) to execute him, still itches.
In Season One, Paulie was a central member of Tony's crew. He executed a Colombian drug dealer and stole a large quantity of drugs and cash from his hotel room. Other tasks he did were retrieving a car for a teacher of Tony's son, torturing a hotel co-owner so the crew can own 25% of the business, and extorting a soccer coach by giving him an unwanted free TV. When suspicions that Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero was an informant first surfaced, Paulie volunteered to investigate (and murder if necessary). His method of taking Pussy to a bath house and trying to get him to undress for a steambath lacked subtlety and drove Pussy into hiding. In Tony's brief and bloody war with the Corrado "Junior" Soprano crew, following Junior's attempt on Tony's life, Paulie was assigned the hit on Junior's consigliere Mikey Palmice, with assistance from Christopher Moltisanti.
In Season Two, when Tony becomes the street boss of the family, while Junior only remains boss in name, Paulie is promoted to capo of his old crew. This meant that Pussy, Christopher, and Furio Giunta amongst others, reported to him. To help set up the crew's stolen car distribution operation in the country, Paulie traveled with Tony and Christopher to Italy. Paulie also helped run the "executive game"; a high stakes poker game. In the episode From Where to Eternity, while Christopher is in the hospital slowly recovering from the bullet wounds caused by Matthew Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte's failed assassination attempt (which was engaged in to gain recognition in the DiMeo Crime Family, particularly with Richie Aprile), when Christopher becomes clinically dead for a few minutes after his heart stops while in his comatose state, he has what may have just been a morphine induced dream in which he visits purgatory and sees his deceased father Richard "Dickie" Moltisanti along with his deceased best friend Brendan Filone and Mikey Palmice who had slain Brendan earlier in Season One. Ironically, Brendan and Mikey are good friends in the afterlife and even gamble together with Ancient Roman soldiers against Irish gangsters whom they constantly lose to according to Christopher's description of what was going on in his ephemeral visit to the realm between Heaven and Hell. Christopher informs Tony and Paulie that Mikey had a message for them: Three o' clock is what Mikey told Christopher to tell them. It is never actually revealed what this esoteric message is supposed to mean, although Paulie thinks it could have been around the time Mikey was executed. Christopher's spiritual experience, which Tony remains skeptical of and deems just a dream, spooks Paulie intensely. Paulie subsequently begins to have disturbing nightmares of being dragged to Hell. Paulie, at the recommendation of his comare (mistress), goes to see a medium but to confirm for sure the guy is real, Paulie gives a pseudo-name when he calls and makes his appointment. Much to Paulie's chagrin, the authenticity of the medium is confirmed when he begins communicating with Charles "Sonny" Pagano who was the first person Paulie ever whacked back in the 1960s and also Mikey Palmice. It becomes abundantly clear that Mikey's spirit is present when the medium informs Paulie that "he" wants to know if the poison ivy still itches (Paulie had inadvertently ran into a batch of poison ivy whilst he and Christopher chased Mikey through the woods on the day they murdered him). Paulie abruptly flips out, grabs the medium, and asks who he's been talking to, as he feels he somehow got some very clandestine information on Paulie through an actually still living person. Paulie continues to remain spooked and paranoid, as he also feels he's being haunted by Mikey Palmice accompanied by others he had murdered throughout his criminal life. However, a skeptical Tony informs him that it means nothing. Later in the season, when it was confirmed that Pussy was an FBI informant, Paulie accompanied Tony and Silvio Dante on their trip out on a boat to execute Pussy. Paulie, right before execution is carried out, tells Pussy "you were like a brother to me", at which point Tony adds, "to all of us." Paulie has clearly stated the hurtful impact Pussy's betrayal has had on him but seems to have put the experience behind him. Paulie will also be later haunted by the memory of his deceased friend.
In Season Three, Christopher often chafed under Paulie's leadership, particularly after Chris became a made man in Paulie's crew. Paulie began to demand regular payments and subjected Chris to humiliating random strip searches for wires. One night, Paulie and Patsy Parisi show up unexpectedly at Christopher's apartment and search his apartment for wires; they also confiscate some stolen shoes Christopher got for Adriana to give to their comares. While meddling through a dresser drawer, Chris observes Paulie sniffing Adriana's panties, about which he later complains to Tony who informs Paulie he must apologize. Paulie grows angry at Christopher's tattle-telling and informs him, "If you ever go to the big man [Tony] again about stuff between you and me, we're gonna have a problem my friend." The tensions between Paulie and Chris culminated in the episode "Pine Barrens". when Tony assigns Paulie and Christopher the task of collecting a payment owed to Silvio by Russian mobster named Valery. They botched the simple assignment after they got into a fight with Valery at his apartment, which Paulie had instigated. Believing Valery is dead after Paulie chokes him with a lamp, they took Valery out into the Pine Barrens to dispose of him. Valery, who was later revealed to be a former commando in the Soviet military, was still alive, and knocked both Paulie and Christopher to the ground with a shovel. He escaped and led Paulie and Christopher on a brief chase in the woods. Paulie shoots Valery in the head, however, Chris and Paulie they can not find Valery, and the two are dumbfounded as to what happened to him. Afterwards, Paulie and Chris decide to get in the car and look for him, but they lose their way. The two try continuously to communicate with Tony on the cell phone to get him to come pick them up but as they are deep in the woods, the signal is weak, and every conversation becomes incomplete by static and disconnection. Paulie and Chris feud throughout the night. They become hungry, extremely cold, tired, and frustrated with each other. Later, a heated exchange even promts Christopher to pull his gun and threaten to kill him. The next morning, they are rescued by Tony and Bobby Baccalieri, but Tony is very disappointed at Paulie's failure to complete such an easy task.
In the season finale "Army of One", Paulie grew upset after Tony ruled against him in a sit down with Ralph Cifaretto. Paulie, who had provided Ralphie with the security codes he needed to execute a $100,000 robbery, demanded 50% of the take. Ralphie countered by offering only $5,000, claiming Paulie had not done any of the leg work. Ultimately, Tony ruled that Paulie was entitled to $12,000. Paulie, who had just put his mother in the expensive "Green Grove" retirement community, was especially angered by the ruling, as he had been depending on the $50,000 to cover his expenses. Paulie also grew jealous of Ralphie's earning ability, which outpaced Paulie's because of Ralphie's labor union ties, which helped bring in the highly lucrative Newark Esplanade project, and Ralphie's consequently rising stock in Tony's eyes.
Between Seasons 3 and 4, Paulie was arrested in Youngstown, Ohio on a gun possession charge. Albeit no censure was rendered upon him, Paulie's separation from the family, incorporated with Ralphie's continued earning abilities, continued to erode his reputation and credibility in Tony's eyes. During his four months in jail, he communicated with John "Johnny Sack" Sacramoni, the Underboss of New York's Lupertazzi crime family, while under the false impression that he could earn a place with them. It was Paulie who told Johnny Sack that Ralph Cifaretto made a very insensitive joke regarding Ginny Sack's being overweight to the family which compels an infuriated Johnny to sanction a hit on Ralph that was called off at the last minute. A party was thrown at the Bada Bing when he was released, but his wavering loyalty only served to accelerate his marginalization under Tony. Paulie however, by the end of season four (in 12th episode of the season), realized he had been duped by Johnny Sack and that Carmine Lupertazzi had never even heard of him, much less offered him a place in his New York family. Following this ascertainment, Paulie once again devoted himself fully to Tony and the Soprano family, reclaiming his status as a top earner and his place within Tony's inner circle.
Paulie has always been devoted to his mother, Marianucci "Nucci" Gualtieri, (it's disclosed in the Season Six episode The Fleshy Part of the Thigh that she is actually his aunt, however) whom he has watched over constantly. She was delighted when he first placed her at "Green Grove" (in stark contrast to Livia Soprano's reaction), and Paulie also interceded in her social problems with the other residents, going so far as to attack their relatives to ensure civility for his mother. He later learned that one of the women Nucci had trouble with, Minn Matrone, kept all her cash in her home. Paulie broke into Minn's home to try to steal this money, but she caught him in the act. When he failed to talk his way out of it, he suffocated her with a pillow. He gave the money to Tony to rejuvenate Tony's confidence in Paulie.
In Season Five, Christopher and Paulie's bad blood resurfaces when Christopher reiterates the story of the Pine Barrens incident to Vito Spatafore, Patsy Parisi, and Benny Fazio. The story starts out friendly, but after Chris embarrasses him in front of the guys, Paulie calls Chris "Tony's little favorite". This leads to Chris and Paulie almost starting a fight and later, Paulie tells the rest of the guys that it's over between the two of them. This is one of many fights in the weird relationship that Paulie and Christopher have. At comare night, Christopher refuses to pay for the dinner, forcing Paulie to pay. At Satriale's the following morning, Paulie demanded the money back, else Christopher would begin paying points. At another dinner in Atlantic City, Paulie tells everyone to choose whatever they want in order to inflate Christopher's bill. Tapped out, Chris left a small tip and argued with Paulie in the parking lot until the waiter came out to confront them. Chris responded violently and threw a brick at him. The waiter collapsed and went into convulsions. Panicked, Paulie shot the waiter and grabbed the $1200 tab before running away. Paulie later called Christopher and they agreed to "bury the hatchet", and split the $1200 bill.
Paulie also got into a dispute with Michele "Feech" La Manna over their rival landscaping companies. Paulie and Feech both resorted to violence, assaulting the others gardeners. Paulie's competition with and antagonism of Feech served to highlight Feech's insubordinate tendencies, which caused Tony to "set up" Feech for a return to prison, making it easier for everyone.
Between seasons 5 and 6, Christopher Moltisanti was made Capo of Paulie's crew, with Paulie being elevated to underboss of the family. Paulie's reputation for withholding money from his payments "up the ladder" were observed in the episode "Mayham". While Tony was in a coma, Paulie took part in a heist with associate Cary DiBartolo that led to an immense score of $1,000,000 in Colombian drug money, which was to be divided up fairly in terms of percentage amongst Tony, Paulie, and Vito. The heist resulted from a tip by Vito Spatafore. Although they had agreed to split the acquisition, Paulie later tried to withhold some of Vito's share due to an injury he had received during the heist; Silvio had to mediate as acting boss, informing them that under the circumstances Tony's share would be given to Carmela. Vito and Paulie were strongly reluctant to give Tony's share to Carmela, as they speculated Tony could potentially die at any moment but in the end accepted their obligation. When Vito's homosexuality was later revealed, Paulie was outspoken in his condemnation of homosexuality and desire to see Vito killed. When Vito returned after months in hiding, Tony considered letting his proposal of setting up business in Atlantic City with Silvio in front of Paulie; Paulie remained quiet, but left the room in apparent protest. Tony largely decided to have Vito killed because Paulie's attitude mirrored the lack of respect his underlings would feel for him letting Vito live free, although Phil Leotardo made it a moot point when he had members of his family beat Vito to death.
In the episode "The Fleshy Part of the Thigh", it was disclosed to Paulie that his dying Aunt Dotty, a nun, was actually his mother. She had become pregnant with him by a soldier identified only as "Russ" during World War II. Nucci, the woman Paulie had thought of as his mother, was really his aunt who took him in to hide the scandal. This flabbergasting ascertainment sent Paulie into an emotional tailspin, in the grips of which he severed his ties to his Nucci and did not attend Dotty's funeral. The episode ended with Paulie extorting $4,000 per month (the sum of Nucci's retirement home costs) from the son of the late owner of the Barone Sanitation company, unbeknown to Tony. Earlier, Paulie had witnessed Helen Barone meet with Tony to intercede on her son's behalf, and Tony promised that he would not be harmed; hearing this conversation led Paulie to break down emotionally. This means that Little Paulie Germani is not his nephew, but his first cousin once removed, although he still referred to Little Paulie as his nephew.
In "The Ride" Paulie was responsible for organizing the annual festivities at the Feast of St. Elzear. Paulie had taken over running the festival from Johnny Boy Soprano upon his death, and continued to try to run it for profit. In 2006, it proved a burden—the replacement priest, Father José, tried to renegotiate the payment the church would receive from the proceeds of the feast. Paulie refused to pay, and Father José retaliated by refusing to allow St. Elzear's gold hat to be used in the festival. The hat's absence was noticed and complained about by elder residents. Ride maintenance was another area where Paulie decided to save money, which resulted in a malfunction while Bobby Baccalieri's family was on a ride. Janice received minor neck injuries. Subsequently, this resulted in temporary bad blood between Paulie and Bobby which Tony ordered to be resolved.
During the festival, Paulie was tested for prostate cancer because of an elevated prostate-specific antigen. With his uncertain parentage, there was no way of knowing if he was genetically predisposed to the disease or not. During a restless night awaiting his biopsy results, Paulie awoke at 3 a.m. and went to the Bada Bing club. There he had a striking vision of the Virgin Mary hovering above the stage. Paulie later visited Nucci at Green Grove, and they had a silent reconciliation. In the episode "Moe N' Joe", Paulie told Tony that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The disease was apparently caught in an early stage, and Paulie underwent a course of radiation therapy. Paulie suggested that his luck at having been diagnosed early was a reward for good deeds in his life, and Tony agreed with him. He stated in the episode "Stage 5", that he beat the cancer, after learning of Johnny Sack's death from lung cancer.
In the episode, "Remember When", Paulie and Tony went to Miami to lie low when the FBI investigated the old murder case of Willie Overall, who was Tony's first murder victim. On the trip and in Miami, Paulie begins to reminisce about the old days at which point he brings up Big Pussy Bonpensiero and Ralph Cifaretto and how they all four went out to dinner the night Tony whacked Willie Overall. Tony begins to grow somewhat suspicious of Paulie's idiosyncrasies and inclination to divulge information to other people, and Tony questioned him several times about the joke Ralph Cifaretto made about Ginny Sacramoni's weight. Eventually, the Overall's murder was blamed on the deceased Jackie Aprile, Sr., so Tony took Paulie on a fishing trip to celebrate. Paulie had serious misgivings about going to sea with Tony due to the boat trip that was used to lure informant Pussy Bonpensiero to his death. On the boat, Paulie continues to deny informing Johnny Sack of Ralph's joke about his wife. While Tony seriously considered murdering Paulie, he ultimately decided to spare his life. Seemingly out of "gratitude", Paulie sent Carmela a $2,000 espresso machine to replace her broken one. The overly expensive gift gave the impression of Paulie to Carmela that "there is something seriously wrong with that man", but Tony defends him, saying it was people like Paulie who allowed Tony and Carmela to live the way they did.
In the episode "Walk like a Man", Paulie's nephew, Little Paulie, was beaten by Christopher over a dispute and thrown out a second-story window, suffering six broken vertebrae. A furious Paulie tore up Christopher's lawn with his car, leaving Chris's wife shaken. Later in the episode, they seemed to have made up, and drank together at the Bada Bing. However, Paulie made off-color remarks about Christopher's daughter, which caused an inebriated Chris to storm out and later kill his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor J.T. Dolan. In the episode, "Kennedy and Heidi", Paulie was left surprisingly grief-stricken when Christopher was killed, reflecting that their argument over money and respect was trivial and that he should have been nicer to him, in life. Paulie was later "upstaged" when his aunt/adopted mother Nucci's wake was under-attended because his friends were at Christopher Moltisanti's wake instead. In the final episode "Made in America", Tony asked Paulie to step in and take over the old Aprile/Cifaretto/Spatafore/Gervasi crew. At first, Paulie was hesitant because all the bad luck that had befallen previous capos of that crew but immediately changes his mind after clever persuasion.
- Main article: Soprano crime family#Soprano / Gualtieri / Moltisanti crew
When given control of the Soprano crew Paulie oversaw all of Tony’s old business dealing, which included amongst others, the Paving Union, extorting drug dealers, the pump and dump scams, charging HMOs for fake MRI expenditures, fencing stolen cars, a phone card scam, gambling, loan sharking and the crew’s front businesses: Barone Sanitation and Massarone Construction. Throughout the shows run other aspects of the crew's criminal activities developed or were revealed. These include control of the Joint Fitters Union, credit card hijacking (run by Benny Fazio), betting shop, cigarette smuggling (both run by Christopher), and protection racketing (run by Patsy). Legit businesses include Pussy’s old auto body shop (now run by his wife Angie), silent partner in a lawn care business, and the Feast of St. Elisario. Paulie soon became Tony's biggest earner. However, by season four Paulie's business hit a low point, especially in comparison to the Cifaretto and Barese crew. By season 5 Paulie's crew regained its position as one of the best earners in the family. When Paulie was promoted to Underboss between seasons 5 and 6, Christopher took over as Capo of his old crew.
Murders committed by Paulie
The following is a list of murders committed by or referenced to on the show by Paulie. With eight confirmed murders, and one possible murder, he holds the record of having killed the most people in the series run.
|Charles "Sonny" Pagano||mid-1960s||Paulie "made his bones" (performed his first contract/ordered killing) by murdering Pagano.||From Where to Eternity*|
|Gallegos||1999||Shot in the forehead by Paulie for operating a drug business within DiMeo Family territory.||A Hit Is a Hit|
|Mikey "Grab Bag" Palmice||1999||Executed in the woods by Paulie and Christopher for conspiring with Junior to kill Tony & for killing Brendan Filone.||I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano|
|Big Pussy Bonpensiero||2000||Killed on Tony's boat by Paulie, Silvio, and Tony for being an FBI informant.||Funhouse|
|Valery||2001||Possibly killed for attacking Paulie and Christopher. Apparently shot in the head. Though officially, according to HBO, his fate is ultimately unknown as he may have survived.||Pine Barrens|
|Minn Matrone||2002||Suffocated with a pillow in her apartment, after she caught him searching her bedroom for cash.||Eloise|
|Raoul the Waiter||2004||Shot by Paulie after suffering blunt force trauma from a brick thrown at his head by Christopher after a brief argument with them.||Two Tonys|
|Colombian #1||2006||Shot in the neck by Paulie and Cary De Bartolo during an armed robbery.||Mayham|
|Colombian #2||2006||Shot in the chest by Cary De Bartolo and then stabbed by Paulie during armed robbery.||Mayham|
*First mentioned. Happened before events of first The Sopranos episode.
- In the episode Commendatori, when Paulie still believed that Nucci is his mother, he mentions having two brothers. Only Gerry is mentioned by name in the series. One of them is a doctor.
- In the series finale, Tony mentions a niece of Paulie's who has multiple sclerosis. Because it now is known that Paulie has no siblings, he is referring to one of his cousin's/"siblings" children.
Like many other gangsters, Paulie is partial to Cadillacs - favoring beige colored Cadillacs. During seasons 1 and 2 he drove a green 1996 Cadillac Seville SLS. He drives a beige 1998 Cadillac DeVille in season 3 (which was stolen in "Pine Barrens" ) He drives a beige 2001 Cadillac Eldorado until the end of season 5 and a beige Cadillac CTS in season 6. One of his Cadillacs has the "Love Theme from The Godfather" as the melody for the car horn ("Nobody Knows Anything").
- His surname is taken from real life DeCavalcante crime family mobster Frank Gualtieri, who served under Vincent Palermo.
Appearances in other media
Since his appearance on The Sopranos, Tony Sirico has appeared in several TV commercials. Although it is never explicitly stated that he is "Paulie Walnuts," his performances in all of them have been consistent with that character.
- Denny's commercials:
- The first one is where he is in a fast food restaurant trying to pay with Monopoly-like money for a breakfast meal. When the cashier says he can't accept the money because it is not real, Sirico responds, "That's not a real breakfast!" The commercial ends when Sirico throws down a wad of Monopoly money and says to the cashier "Go buy yourself something nice."
- The second one is where he plays a police detective with a victim behind a one-way mirror in a police line-up. The victim points to a suspect and says, "That's the one who sold me the fake breakfast." Sirico responds, "Calm down, chief. He can't harm you no more."
- The third one shows Sirico tying a rope to the bumper of his Cadillac DeVille connecting the car to a billboard advertising breakfast. When someone asks him what he is doing he responds, "Is that the Grand Slam?" The next shot shows him driving away and pulling the billboard down.
In addition, Sirico has appeared in a Netflix commercial in 2003.
He appears in a commercial for Aftonbladet, advertising the tabloid being shipped with a free Sopranos DVD weekly in the 2009 period.