- "It was a fucking horse! What are you a vegetarian? You eat beef and sausage by the fuckin' carload! "
- ―Ralph Cifaretto[src]
Ralph "Ralphie" Cifaretto, played by Joe Pantoliano, is a major character on The Sopranos. Ralph is not present in Season 1 or 2, as he spends a prolonged amount of time in Miami overseeing the family's real estate interests from spring 1999 to mid-2000, returning following the "disappearance" of Aprile capo Richie Aprile. Ralph first appears on the show as a soldier in the Aprile Crew in the second episode of season 3, Proshai, Livushka, but eventually reached the rank of Caporegime of the Aprile Crew in the DiMeo crime family, under the regime of Tony Soprano and Corrado "Junior" Soprano. Cifaretto is characterized as cunning and an excellent earner, but also unstable and prone to sudden outbursts of violence, often for no reason and at the worst possible moments.
Ralph's 2000 return from Miami, FLEdit
Ralph Cifaretto was a member of the DiMeo crime family. Next to such other notable mobsters like Richie Aprile and Mikey Palmice, Ralph is one of the more unfavored members of the DiMeo crime family. He was born in the late-1950s and grew up in New Jersey along with other mobster associates Tony Soprano, Silvio Dante, and Jackie Aprile Sr. He didn't move up in the ranks of the family nearly as fast as his peers; he credits this to not going along with the robbing of Feech La Manna's card game, which led to Tony, Silvio, and Jackie, Sr. getting made and respected. At one point, Ralph mentions his father died when he was six. He wanted to be an architect but had to drop out of the eleventh grade to help his mother raise his brothers and sisters. Ralph was sent down to Florida to watch over the family's interests in Miami, which he described as one big vacation. In Miami, he did excessive amounts of cocaine and developed an addiction to the drug, and later on, would blame the drug for his violent outbursts. He returned to New Jersey in mid-2000, following the disappearance of Aprile Crew caporegime Richie Aprile. As he was a soldier at the time, albeit a high ranking one, he unofficially tried to take over the Aprile Crew as captain despite Tony's reluctance to make him captain and often referred to it as "my crew".
Status with Tony SopranoEdit
Although they had gotten along in their youth, recent years had Tony having problems with Ralph; he viewed Ralph as obnoxious, disrespectful, and insubordinate, which is why he passed Ralph over for promotion and gave it to the less qualified, but more docile Gigi Cestone. Although Ralph was the highest earning member of his crew, Tony could not bear to promote someone whom he despised so much. At the time, Ralph had become obsessed with the 2000 film Gladiator and would incessantly quote the film, occasionally acting out the most violent scenes, which became very annoying to others around him. Ralph was always totally oblivious to others' feelings and would make the most inappropriate comments at the worst possible times. In the episode "Another Toothpick", Vito Spatafore's brother Bryan is violently beaten and put into a coma, and it is revealed that he will probably suffer permanent brain damage from the attack. Ralph remarks "look at the bright side: he wasn't that smart to begin with." He also undermines the leadership of the Aprile crew capo Cestone, who chooses the elderly Bobby Baccala, Sr. to kill Bryan's assailant, saying "You send in an old man; what's he gonna do? Gum the guy to death?"
As an earnerEdit
While Ralph may be loud and obnoxious, when it comes to earning, he is undefeated. Even when his son, Justin, was on the verge of death and comatose in the hospital, it does not hinder his earning ability, which is also complimented and acknowledged by Tony. Upon his return from Miami, he (as Junior says) "really whipped the Aprile Crew into shape." His earning skills assist in Tony seeing past him as a hazard and temporarily becomes Tony's prized earner during his short reign as capo of the Aprile Crew. Paulie becomes exceptionally jealous of Ralphie, because Ralphie outearns him and because the two don't get along. Paulie envies Ralphie to the extent that he is persistently searching for the slightest excuse to have him killed. Paulie becomes peripheral to Tony, as Tony is always focused on the abundance of income Ralph earns for the family. Ralph does, of course, have a considerable advantage over the other capos, since he is in charge of the highly profitable Esplanade Construction. Reviewer suspicions have elicited the theory that the construction source may be bringing in more than $3 million a year and that Ralphie is only kicking up a certain percentage to Tony and pocketing the rest. When Christopher discovers his corpse after Tony brings him over to Ralph's house, he comments, "He was a captain, T... our biggest earner." Patsy Parisi speculates to Albert Barese over their suspicion that if Tony whacked Ralph over the horse, that any one of them could get whacked just as easily.
The Stripper IncidentEdit
In the episode "University", he enters the Bada Bing's V.I.P. lounge, loudly quoting and acting scenes from Gladiator. After making inappropriate comments, he picks up a chain and proceeds to swing it at Georgie, the club's head bouncer and bartender, in an attempt to imitate a battle scene from Gladiator. Although the men urge Ralph to calm down and women begin screaming, Ralph continues swinging until he inadvertently hits Georgie in the eye, which causes Georgie to have to wear an eye bandage for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Ralph has also begun a volatile relationship with a 20-year old Bada Bing stripper named Tracee. Although very beautiful and sweet, Tracee is also extremely naïve, unaware of Ralph's true nature. When Silvio Dante comes to Ralph's apartment one afternoon to get Tracee, who had been loafing around with Ralph instead of working to repay Silvio the money he had loaned her for braces, Silvio becomes violently frustrated and smacks her hard across the face, which Ralph finds funny. One night while Ralph is conversing with Christopher, Bobby, and Gigi, Tracee walks by, and Ralph comments that she can't even say hello. Tracee is angry at Ralph for not calling her for a few days and insults him in front of his friends. Angered, Ralph proceeds to follow Tracee outside where they reconcile for a moment until Ralph makes yet another inappropriate comment regarding Tracee's pregnancy. He says if the baby is male, it will get his name, and if it is female, it will get her name, in which the baby will grow up to be a "cocksucking slob like her mom". This turns violent when Tracee slaps and spits at him. Ralphie then becomes very enraged and he proceeds to hit and stomp Tracee to death, finally beating her head against a highway guardrail. When Silvio Dante, Paulie Gualtieri, Tony, and Christopher Moltisanti discover her corpse laying outside, Silvio instructs Chris to cover it up with a sheet, while the others bring Ralph back outside to explain himself on Tony's command. Tony and the crew instantly see past Ralph's pathetic lie that "she fell." After Ralph says "It's my fault she's a klutz?", Tony strikes him repeatedly, which violates traditional Mafia code. Ralph defends himself by shouting, "I'm a made guy!" Tony justifies his actions by saying that Ralphie "disrespected the Bing."
This incident causes temporary bad blood between Ralph and Tony. Although Tony feels his response was justified, others, especially Ralph, feel it violated traditional Mafia code. Although Silvio believes that Ralph's actions were indeed despicable, Tony would only have been able to physically retaliate if it had involved a woman whom Tony either had a sexual relationship with or who was a blood relative, and Tracee was neither. Silvio says this cannot be overlooked, and his recommendation is to blackball Ralph from the club. After Gigi Cestone dies of an heart attack, Tony reluctantly installs Ralph as captain of the Aprile Crew, for he is the most qualified at the time. Ralphie's crew becomes the highest earning crew of the family, mainly due to Ralph running the lucrative Esplanade construction project.
In the season 3 penultimate episode "Amour Fou", inspired by a story from Ralph, Jackie Aprile, Jr. (Ralph's stepson to be) and some friends rob a poker game that belonged to Ralph and his crew, which ends tragically as Jackie ends up shooting at Christopher Moltisanti, a made man, shooting Furio Giunta, also made, in the leg, and killing the dealer, Sunshine. To control the situation, Ralph reluctantly orders the boy's death. In season 4, it is discovered Ralph is into sado-masochism, including role playing as a female prostitute and being sodomized by his girlfriends via a phallic device of some sort. He briefly pursues relationships with Rosalie Aprile and Janice Soprano; both of these relationships end badly. Ralph dumps Rosalie for Janice (with whom he'd been messing around clandestinely behind Rosalie's back for a brief time), but Janice quickly dumps Ralph (possibly because of his preference for masochistic sex). In the episode "Mergers and Acquisitions", Ralph's latest mistress, Valentina La Paz, is introduced who later complains to Tony about Ralph's sexual inadequacies and eccentric sexual fetishes; she later breaks up with Ralph as well, begins dating Tony, and is his mistress through the end of Season Five. Valentina later makes it explicitly clear to Tony it was Ralph's sexual idiosyncrasies that caused their relationship to end.
The Weight JokeEdit
In the episode "No Show", while at Albert Barese's birthday dinner, Ralph makes a derisive joke regarding Johnny Sack's overweight wife, Ginny. Johnny Sack is eventually informed of the joke via Paulie Gualtieri, who is in jail on a firearms charge at the time. Johnny is so personally insulted that he contracts a hit on Ralph for the insult, only to call it off at the last minute. Unbeknownst to Johnny, calling off the hit not only saved Ralphie's life but also his own, for Carmine Lupertazzi had planned for Johnny to be murdered indirectly via Tony Soprano's hit men. By sanctioning the hit on Ralph, Johnny was being insubordinate to Carmine who would not sanction the hit himself, as Carmine judged that taxing Ralph may be appropriate punishment for the insult, but that a hit would be extreme. The joke Ralph made was that he "heard Ginny Sack was having a 95 pound mole removed from her ass". When explaining the incident to Carmine, an angry Johnny Sack said that "the implication is that her ass is big enough to have a mole that size removed from it".
Paulie vs Ralphie: Phone Games War Edit
However the incident of the Weight Joke on Ginny Sacrimoni went down, or whether it was to cause little or great and potentially damaging consequences for the Family, that would not go unanswered on Ralph's behalf. Eventually after all the troubles, Ralph was discussing the event with his crew (respectively with Gene and Vito) and remembering the birthday dinner offered to Albert Barese (when the joke happened), counting of all the possibilities of people "flapping their gums" over the topic during the event, he came to the (correct) suspicion that Little Paulie was the one who informed Paulie Walnuts of this joke and since he was, at the time, on buddying terms with Johnny Sack, relayed it to him.
Also, Ralph was very well aware that Paulie was resentful and jealous of him because of his earning abilities and of past clashes between the two.Therefore, after deducing that the move resembled a "phone game like high school girls" he decided to repay Paulie in kind. He phoned Paulie's mother Marianucci at Green Grove that night, and in the presence of his crew played a very rude and distasteful joke passing as a prank call, in where masquerading as a state trooper from Pennsylvania reported that her son was found in a public men's room of a park, and in Ralphie's words "he was sucking a cub scout's dick".
Eventually during the Pie-O-My incident (see below) after meeting with Tony and delivering his taste for his work, Ralph encountered Silvio, Chrissy and Paulie. Both Silvio and Chrissy extended their support for Ralph's son already recovering from the arrow injury at the hospital, but Paulie refused to acknowledge him. By now it's apparent that Paulie was in the loop on what happened to his mother. After being lectured by Tony to show some sympathy on Ralph's misfortunes, Paulie reminded him that Ralph was a "piece o' shit," pointing out Ralph's various infractions.
Afterwards, he related to the guys that he suspected that Ralph was behind the sick phone joke to his mother and revealed the consequences of it. It is reported that because of such a severe scare, Marianucci had to be put on Xanax and was interned at the hospital unit for more than an hour because she had to be treated for nervous bowel syndrome as a result of the call.
Paulie threatened that if he got proof that Ralph was behind this, "on my old man's grave, [Ralph's] a fucking corpse" Tony then warned him that no murder was to happen. Paulie reasserted himself by reminding Tony that the Mafia Code has guidelines according to blood family issues (his mother) and that he had the right to take care of things. Tony again threatened Paulie that "you lay a hand on him, and you'll be answering to me. If you can quote the rules, you'll fucking obey them". Then he demanded from Paulie his understanding of his direct orders and he complied. And asserting himself in front of his crew, he then told Paulie that as a sign of support and respect to him, he would visit his mother later. Paulie then was placated by the gesture, and commenting to Silvio Tony said that Paulie couldn't understand what Ralph's situation was because he's not a family man. However, given Tony's orders on keeping Ralph unharmed, it's interesting to notice subsequent events regarding him and Ralph as described as follows, showing a hint of hypocritical action on Tony's behalf.
Pie-O-My, his son's injury, and his demiseEdit
The final straw comes when Ralph purchases a race horse from Hesh Rabkin named Pie-O-My. The winning horse makes Ralph and Tony (who offers advice on racing strategy) a lot of money. Because of Tony's advice, Ralph gives him a "taste" of his winnings. However, while Ralph only cares about Pie-O-My as a means to make money, Tony becomes emotionally attached to the horse, even paying for veterinary help and staying with her when she gets sick.
In 2002, in the episode "Whoever Did This", Ralph's son Justin is badly injured when a bow and arrow is accidentally shot in his chest while playing an unsupervised game of Lord of the Rings. Ralph is devastated, and turns to Father Intintola for guidance, becoming remorseful about his many sins. Tension between Tony and Ralph comes to a head when Pie-O-My dies in a suspicious stable fire. Tony goes to Ralph's house to confront him. Although Ralph vehemently denies setting the fire, he mocks Tony's concern for the situation, pointing out that while he has special affection for animals, he "eats beef and sausage by the fuckin' carload". Once again, heated words turn into a violent battle. Tony punches Ralph, knocking him across the kitchen. Although Ralph fights back with pots, frying pans, a knife, and sprays Tony in the eye with Raid, the fight culminates with Tony strangling Ralph and slamming his head against his kitchen floor until he dies, with Tony screaming out that "She was a beautiful, innocent creature!".
Tony enlists the help of Christopher Moltisanti to help dispose of the body. Christopher cuts off Ralph's head and hands with a meat cleaver, also discovering he's bald and wears a toupee, and places them in a bowling bag. Ralph's body is wrapped up and weighed down and thrown over into a quarry. Christopher, despite being high on heroin at the time, sees past Tony's lie that he found Ralph dead and knows in his heart Tony did in fact kill him over the horse. Ralph's disappearance becomes quite an issue, but Tony eventually concocts a story that Johnny Sack had Ralph killed over a business deal gone wrong. Ralph rubbed almost everybody the wrong way, thus the real circumstances behind his death are never investigated.
Ralph lived in a townhouse when he first moved up from Miami, which he left when he moved in with Rosalie Aprile, and later briefly with Janice Soprano. He also drove a dark green 1996 Lincoln Mark VIII.
Rank: Soldier (after being passed up for promotion twice, was made a Capo.)
- Later on in the series, Tony has three dreams which include Ralph, as well as Tony's other victims, such as Big Pussy and Mikey Palmice.
- In the season 4 episode "Calling All Cars", which happens to be two episodes after the one in which Ralph is murdered, the first dream Tony has about him involves Carmela driving Tony's father's old Cadillac with Ralph in the passenger seat. A caterpillar appears on Ralph's bald head and then turns into a butterfly. When Tony discusses this dream with Dr. Melfi in therapy, Melfi points out the transition of the caterpillar to butterfly signifies a change, indicating Ralph was trying to become a better person shortly before his death. During this session Tony complains that his poor impulse control causes him to make mistakes in his business, which may indicate he regrets killing Ralph. The second dream of the episode involves Tony following Ralph into an old house where Tony sees a silhouette of a woman at the top of the stairs.
- In the episode "The Test Dream", Tony rides in a car with Ralph, Pussy, Mikey Palmice and several other deceased characters. When Tony asks, "where we going?" Ralphie replies, "We're driving you to the job."
- In the season 6 part II episode "Remember When", Paulie Gualtieri is reminiscing about how he, Ralph, and Big Pussy Bonpensiero took Tony out to eat after he did his first hit on the bookie Willie Overall, at which point Tony is reminded about the Ginny Sack joke and questions Paulie as to how Johnny Sack may have found out; Paulie's understanding of what actually happened to Ralph (along with him, Tony and Silvio murdering Big Pussy) leads him and the audience to believe Tony is going to kill him too, but Tony decides to let Paulie live.
- In the episode "Walk Like a Man", Christopher Moltisanti, while extremely intoxicated, reveals to J.T. Dolan that he knows Ralph was murdered.
- In the series finale, "Made in America", Paulie tells Tony he doesn't want the job as captain of the old Cifaretto crew because of the bad luck that befell anyone in charge of the Aprile crew, including Ralph.