The son of Lino Bonpensiero; Pussy was born on September 16th, 1951. Salvatore Bonpensiero started out as a cat burglar, and was affectionately known as "Big Pussy" because of this early career. He also ran an auto body shop with his brother Edward Bonpensiero. He married Angie Bonpensiero in 1976. He was an associate of DiMeo capo "Johnny Boy" Soprano, whom he supported during the unrest of 1983. Bonpensiero became a made man sometime after this and acted as a soldier in the Soprano crew from then onwards. He remained loyal to the Soprano family and backed Johnny Boy's wishes to have his son, Tony Soprano, become capo of the crew following Johnny Boy's death in late 1986. Bonpensiero worked alongside other longtime Soprano associates Paulie Gualtieri and Silvio Dante throughout his career in the DiMeo crime family. Salvatore succeeded Johnny Boy in the tradition of dressing as Santa Claus and giving out presents to local children at Satriale's Meat Market at Christmas time, and was regarded as a worthy successor as families appreciated his manner with their kids.
Bonpensiero was a father and husband to wife Angie and their three children; he was also a long-time friend of Tony's. The money he made from the DiMeo crime family was not enough to raise his three children and put them through college and he began trafficking heroin on the side. Tony Soprano, his capo, and Jackie Aprile Sr., then acting boss of the family, were aware of his sideline and urged him to stop dealing. Aprile warned that heroin is too risky a venture for mobsters in this day and age, and said that if Bonpensiero was in need of money, he could come to him. It was unknown why Bonpensiero never took Aprile's offer, although it may have been fear of being indebted to the boss.
It was around this time that he was caught by the FBI and given the choice of either working for them as an informant against Tony Soprano and his mob family or facing the possibility of 30 years to life in prison. Given Bonpensiero's middle adulthood, even facing the lightest sentence of 30 years meant he would have carried all the weight of a death sentence as he would have likely died behind bars. Bonpensiero agreed to become an FBI informant and was assigned FBI Agent Skip Lipari as a handler — he was first accused of being an informant in "Nobody Knows Anything" and finally revealed as an informant in the episode "Do Not Resuscitate."
At Christmas 1995, Bonpensiero was instrumental in organizing a sit-down between DiMeo capo Junior Soprano and Acting Boss Jackie Aprile He traveled to Boca Raton to persuade Junior to return to New Jersey and settle a trucking dispute with Aprile. He was suspiciously late for the actual sitdown and made the excuse that he was dealing with health problems that his comare's mother had. He arrived at the Christmas celebrations that year already in his Santa suit and appearing drunk. He became angry when DiMeo soldier Paulie Gualtieri hugged him, quizzed Tony Soprano about business and almost got into a fight with associate Christopher Moltisanti. Soprano later remembered these events and decided Bonpensiero must have turned informant shortly before this.
In 1998, Bonpensiero was an essential part of the Soprano crew's operation and was exposed to a number of things he could have reported. He intimidated a debtor into starting up DiMeo associate Hesh Rabkin and Soprano's HMO insurance scam. He also helped Christopher Moltisanti dispose of the body of Emil Kolar — killed in a dispute over the crew's Tri Borough Towers garbage routes. As the crew's car expert he was assigned to retrieve a car stolen from Tony's son's (A.J. Soprano) teacher — he found the thieves and kidnapped them but the car had already been chopped. He came up with a novel solution — steal a car of the same model and repaint it. He was present when Soprano and the other DiMeo capos discussed their problems with new figurehead acting boss, Junior. When indictments were threatened he fled and burned papers in his back garden — perhaps a sign that he was not co-operating fully or had concealed other crimes from the FBI.
Months Later (1999) he participated in a card game managed by fellow capo Jimmy Altieri, which was raided by the FBI as Altieri was wanted for gunrunning (firearms were immediately found stashed). He tried to escape but his flight to freedom was very limited. Salvatore did not make it far as the physical exertion caused his back to be thrown out and an FBI agent was calmly waiting around the corner (he was later criticized by Tony for breaking the Mafia's policy against physically running from the authorities). He was quickly bailed out by Angie. Although out for the time, Sal was virtually confined to his house under doctor's orders and heavily using painkillers. Shortly afterward, corrupt police detective Vin Makazian told Soprano he had a rat in his organization and pointed the finger at Bonpensiero. Soprano assigned Gualtieri to see if he could feel out where Bonpensiero's loyalties were by checking him for a wire, even authorizing him to kill his old friend if he saw one with his own eyes. Tony was obviously distressed to have to ask Paulie to do this to a trusted member of the crew. Gualtieri then surprised Bonpensiero with a trip to a bathhouse, where he refused to undress and left — blaming high blood pressure. This served to heighten his crew's suspicions, but Paulie was bound to Tony's orders; "no wire, no hit" which meant that Gaultieri was not to kill him unless a wire was seen with his own eyes. After this unnerving experience, Salvatore disappeared. While he was away, Gualtieri took over his collections and the crew killed Altieri (believing him to be an FBI informant), taking the heat off Bonpensiero as Tony figured Makazian mistook Altieri for Bonpensiero due to their somewhat similar appearances.
He resurfaced at the Sopranos' home in early August 1999 claiming to have been in Puerto Rico getting treatment for his bad back from an acupuncturist. When reporting to Lipari after the meeting, Bonpensiero lied about Soprano; showing a reluctance to give anything up. He was left out of the crew's trip to Italy to discuss exporting stolen cars with a local mafia family. While meeting Lipari in a distant party goods store, he was spotted by an Elvis impersonator called Jimmy Bones. Lipari reassured him that they had handled it well. However, Bonpensiero later went to Bones' house and killed him for fear of being revealed.
Since his return, he and his wife had been having trouble and she discussed leaving him with Carmela Soprano, who dissuaded her because of their Catholicism. Angie settled for sleeping in separate bedrooms.
Upon his return from Italy, Soprano re-organized his crew — Paulie Gualtieri would be a capo now that Tony was acting boss, Silvio Dante would become Tony's consigliere, and new addition Furio Giunta would be on an equal footing with Bonpensiero despite his years of long service. Bonpensiero was obviously distressed at the new order, openly hostile to Giunta and complained to Lipari that "this thing of ours" turned into "this thing of mine." His reservations about informing on Soprano began to dissipate.
Lipari persuaded Bonpensiero to wear a wire to A.J.'s confirmation, but he spent most of his time upstairs with A.J. telling him that his father would do anything for him instead of talking business. He ends the evening sobbing in the bathroom, still trapped in an impossible situation.
Following DiMeo soldier Christopher Moltisanti's shooting by associates Matthew Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte, Salvatore fell back into his loyal soldier role; an informant told him where to find the escaped Matthew; he then phoned Tony Soprano, met him at Satriale's to tool up and they went together to get the traitor. They drew out the murder, talking to the frightened upstart for a while before unloading their weapons into him. Soprano took Bonpensiero for dinner afterward, and it seemed to be just like old times. When FBI handler Skip Lipari called Bonpensiero, saying a witness to Bevilaqua's shooting identified Soprano and "a second, husky figure," he flatly denied any involvement. Lipari chose to believe him but pressured him to get a confession from Soprano on tape. The FBI's murder case fell apart when the witness withdrew his statement after realizing who he had identified.
Bonpensiero eventually began to co-operate and gave Lipari information on Soprano's stolen airline ticket scam, however Lipari lacked confidence that it could prove Tony was guilty of bankruptcy fraud. Lipari said that Bonpensiero had a case of Stockholm syndrome when he suggested that he could work in law enforcement once he finished helping the FBI build their case. Bonpensiero began recording notes and tailing members of his crew. He ended up in a car accident in an unrequested "stake-out" gone wrong.
Tony eventually abandoned the blinding affection he held for Salvatore and realized his old friend's betrayal after a portentous dream where Salvatore appeared as a fish and told him that he had known all along. Tony decided he had to be sure, on June 9 2000 he visited Bonpensiero's home to search for evidence while Silvio distracted him. Tony found a wire (recording equipment worn on the body for secretly taping conversations) hidden under the false bottom of a cigar box. Tony then had Bonpensiero meet him on the pretense of checking out a new boat. Tony, Silvio and Paulie confronted their former friend once they got out to sea and got him to admit that he had informed on them. Bonpensiero claimed that he had been acting as a double agent as a strategy to feed misinformation to the FBI. Soprano, Gualtieri, and Bonpensiero had some tequila. Dante came down into the cabin and Bonpensiero realized that he would not make it off the boat alive and requested to not be shot in the face.
Paulie Gualtieri told Bonpensiero, "You were like a brother to me" before Tony Soprano opened fire. Paulie and Silvio Dante also shot at Bonpensiero.
Whether intentional or not, all shots hit Bonpensiero in the chest, honoring his last wish to "keep his eyes" and not be shot above the neck. Paulie took some jewelry off Salvatore's body and the three bagged him up, weighed him down and threw him overboard. All three have since been haunted by the memory of their old friend's betrayal and murder.
Bonpensiero was survived by his wife, Angie Bonpensiero, and children, Matt, Kevin, and Terri. He is also survived by his illegitimate child, Joey LaRocca, as revealed in the videogame The Sopranos: Road to Respect. Angie assumed his share of the Body Shop and continued his involvement with the DiMeo crime family.
Murders Committed By Bonpensiero
- Jimmy Bones: Beaten over the head several times with a hammer by Bonpensiero for seeing him with his FBI agent handler. (August 1999)
- Matthew Bevilaqua: Executed by Tony and Pussy for attempting to kill DiMeo soldier Christopher Moltisanti (although technically, Tony fired the first shot which was likely fatal; however Lipari rightfully suspected him as guilty as Tony for being an accomplice). (April 2000)
Appearances in the show after his death
- "Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood" - In an FBI meeting, a recording of Bonpensiero talking (recorded on April 29 2000) on a wire is being reviewed by Skip Lipari and Chief Cubitoso. The agents say that recording was the closest Bonpensiero got to extracting a confession from Tony about the murder of Matthew Bevilaquca. The agents are also discussing the disappearance of their cooperating witness, to which Lipari claims he is "probably compost". As that was not played before, Vincent Pastore is credited at the end of the episode.
- "Proshai, Livushka" - When Tony Soprano opens a closet at the gathering after his mother's funeral, Big Pussy's reflection can be briefly seen in the mirror of the closet door.
- "...To Save Us All From Satan's Power" - Seen in flashback sequences to 1995 and in Silvio's dream.
- "The Test Dream" - Appears in Tony's dream.
- "Remember When" - Pussy's death is replayed in Paulie's head and later Pussy appears in his kitchen in one of his dreams shortly after Tony contemplates whacking Paulie.
- Salvatore Bonpensiero could be a reference to Frank Bompensiero, a long-time caporegime with the Los Angeles crime family who was demoted to soldier by new boss Frank DeSimone, and who was accused of being a federal informant.
- Tony Sirico was disappointed when he read the script about Bompensiero's shooting, remarking to himself "Oh great, we won't be working with Vincent Pastore anymore!" He was later glad when they worked again in prequel episodes.
- "Funhouse" (Death)
- "Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood" (Voice; picture)
- "Proshai, Livushka" (Vision)
- "Second Opinion" (Flashback; Dream; Voice)
- "...To Save Us All From Satan's Power" (Dream)
- "The Test Dream" (Dream)
- "Remember When" (Flashback; dream)