Big Pussy Bonpensiero
|First appearance||"Pilot" (episode 1.01)|
|Last appearance||"Remember When" (episode 6.15)|
|Created by||David Chase|
|Portrayed by||Vincent Pastore|
|Aliases||Puss, Big Pussy, Sal, CW-16 (FBI informant number)|
|Occupation||Owner of Bonpensiero Bros. Body Shop|
|Title||Soprano soldier, drug trader, FBI informant|
|Family||Lino Bonpensiero (father)
Edward "Duke" Bonpensiero (brother)
Marianucci (sister, deceased)
A.J. Soprano (godson)
Terri Bonpensiero (daughter)
Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero, played by Vincent Pastore, is a fictional character on the HBO TV series The Sopranos. Not to be confused with fellow New Jersey mobster "Little Pussy" Malanga, Big Pussy was one of the men who worked for Tony Soprano and the two were close friends.
The son of Lino Bonpensiero, Salvatore Bonpensiero started out as a cat burglar, and was affectionately known as "Big Pussy" because of this early career ("Pussy" in reference to a "pussy cat" since he was a cat burglar). It is also very likely that he started out solely with the nickname "Pussy," then he got the nickname "Big Pussy" so as to avoid confusion with another crew member, "Little Pussy" Malanga. The name confusion is referenced in the first episode when Tony's confidante Herman "Hesh" Rabkin mistakenly believes that Junior plans to whack Big Pussy Bonpensiero. Tony corrected Hesh by saying that Junior planned to whack Little Pussy Malanga; that if Junior was to attempt an attack on Big Pussy that would result in an automatic mob war since "Big Pussy" was highly respected by everyone, even outside the DiMeo crime family and was also both made and a "good earner." This showed in particular Bonpensiero's high status in the Soprano crew and his closeness to Tony, referring to him as "my pussy."
Big Pussy also ran an auto body shop with his brother Edward "Duke" Bonpensiero. He married his wife, Angela in 1976. He was an associate of "Johnny Boy" Soprano, whom he supported during the unrest of 1983. Bonpensiero was made 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 1986. Bonpensiero worked alongside other longtime Soprano soldiers, Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri and Silvio Dante, throughout his career in the Mafia. Following the death of the elder Soprano, Bonpensiero also took on Johnny Boy's tradition of dressing as Santa Claus and giving out presents to local children at Satriale's meat market at Christmas time.
Bonpensiero was a kind-hearted man who doted on his wife Angie and their three children, and was a long-time friend of Tony's. However, the money he made from the mob was not enough to raise his three children and put them through college (at Villanova), and he began trafficking in heroin on the side. 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 had advised Big Pussy that if he were in need of money Pussy could come to him.
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 imprisonment to life in prison. Given Bonpensiero's middle adulthood, even the concept of facing the minimum thirty years in jail would have been an effective life sentence. He agreed and was assigned FBI Agent Skip Lipari as a handler — he was revealed as an informant in the episode "Do Not Resuscitate."
In various flashbacks to 1995, it is shown that Bonpensiero was instrumental in organizing a sit-down between high ranking captain, 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 he had got into with Aprile. He was suspiciously late for the actual sitdown and blamed health problems with his comare's mother. He arrived to the Christmas celebrations that year already in his Santa suit and appearing drunk. He became angry when Gualtieri hugged him, quizzed Soprano about business, and almost got into a fight with Christopher Moltisanti. Soprano later remembered these events and decided Bonpensiero must have turned informant shortly before this. This is unlikely given that in the episode "Do Not Resuscitate" (season 2), Agent Skip Lapari said to Pussy "you been with us (the FBI) since '98".
In 1999, 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 Hesh Rabkin and Soprano's HMO insurance scam. He also helped associate Christopher Moltisanti dispose of the body of Emil Kolar — who Christopher 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 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 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.
Later that year, he was arrested at a card game run by Soprano family capo, Jimmy Altieri. He tried to escape but threw his back out and was caught on the corner of the block (he was later criticized for breaking the Mafia's policy against physically running from the authorities). He was quickly bailed out by Angie, but was confined to his house, popping pain killers. Shortly afterward, dirty cop 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 lay, by checking him for a wire, even authorizing him to kill his old friend if he saw one with his own eyes. Soprano was obviously distressed to have to ask Gualtieri to do this to a trusted member of the crew. However, his orders were cut-and-dried, that if Gaultieri did not see a wire, he was not to do the hit. Gualtieri then surprised Bonpensiero with a trip to a bath house, where he refused to undress and left — blaming high blood pressure. This behavior served to heighten his crew's suspicions, but meant Paulie had to abide by the letter of the law of Tony's orders. Since no wire was physically sighted, Paulie could not eliminate Pussy. After this unnerving experience, he 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 the crew figured Jimmy was the "rat."
Bonpensiero resurfaced at Sopranos' home in 2000, 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 and acquaintance named Jimmy Bones. Lipari reassured him that they had handled it well. However, Bonpensiero later went to Bones' house and murdered him with a ball-peen hammer 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 — Gualtieri would be a capo now that Tony was acting boss, 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 Moltisanti's shooting by associates Matthew Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte, Bonpensiero fell back into his loyal soldier role; he tracked down the escaped Bevilaqua, phoned Soprano, met him at Satriale's to tool up and took him 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 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 when he realized that he had implicated high-level Mafia figures.
Bonpensiero eventually began to co-operate and gave Lipari information on Soprano's stolen airline ticket scam. 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. Lipari coldly said that Bonpensiero's future involved testifying against Tony Soprano and his friends, doing prison time for selling heroin, and then a life in the Witness Protection Program. Bonpensiero began recording notes and tailing members of his crew. He ended up in a car accident in an unrequested "stake-out" gone wrong.
Soprano eventually abandoned the blinding affection he held for Bonpensiero and realized his old friend's betrayal after a portentous dream where Bonpensiero appeared as a fish and told him that he had known all along. Soprano decided he had to be sure, so he visited Bonpensiero's home to search for evidence while Silvio distracted him. Soprano found a wire in the false-bottom of a cigar box on his dresser. He then had Bonpensiero meet him on the pretense of checking out a new boat. Soprano, Dante and Gualtieri 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 have some Tequila, and have one last toast to good times had. Dante then 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 Walnuts told Bonpensiero, "You were like a brother to me." Pussy requested to sit down, and then Soprano opened fire, Paulie and Silvio also shot Bonpensiero. They didn't hit him above the neck. Paulie then took his jewelry off 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, and children, Matt, Kevin, and Terri. He is also survived by his illegitimate son, Joseph "Joey" LaRocca, as revealed in the videogame The Sopranos: Road to Respect. Angie inherited the body shop, which she co-owns with Salvatore's younger brother Duke, and continued his involvement with the DiMeo Crime Family. Although Tony was at first hostile to Angie because he believed she was scamming Carmela for money, Carmela has seen Angie struggling and later sees her working at a grocery store, handing out free samples. Carmela's insistence has changed Tony's attitude towards Angie, and he has referred much of his crew and other people to the Bonpensiero Body Shop.
Murders committed by Bonpensiero
- Jimmy Bones: beaten over the head several times with a hammer by Bonpensiero for seeing him with his FBI agent (2000).
- Matthew Bevilaqua: executed by Tony and Pussy for his attempt to murder Christopher (2000).
Appearances in the show after his death
- "Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood": at the New Jersey FBI office where Skip Lipari is playing tapes of Bonpensiero attempting to elicit information from Tony about the murder of Matthew Bevilaqua, and the FBI has accepted that Bonpensiero is presumably dead, with Lipari saying "I think it's time to declare CW-16 (Pussy) compost" and his picture being removed from the Soprano family's organization chart and thrown in the garbage. Vincent Pastore is credited for this episode as the recording was not played on screen before this.
- "Proshai, Livushka": when Tony Soprano opens a closet at the gathering after his mother Livia'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.
- In the season 3 episode "...To Save Us All From Satan's Power", Tony and Paulie have a one-on-one meeting on the boardwalk at the beach where Tony is gazing at the ocean when Paulie walks up. When Paulie asks Tony what he's doing, Tony replies, "I'm just thinking about our friend", pointing his head towards the ocean where Pussy's body was dumped. Paulie replies, "Him?! Not me. Never. I'd kill em' again if I could." Throughout the rest of the episode, Pussy is discussed between Tony, Paulie, and Silvio. Silvio even has a very disturbing dream involving Pussy. Tony spends a lot of time dwelling on how he should have known Pussy had flipped sooner.
- In the season 4 episode "Pie-O-My", the F.B.I. is telling Adriana the potential peril she and Christopher will remain in if they continue to affiliate themselves with Tony Soprano to which Adriana replies, "Tony loves Christopher; he would never let anything happen to him." Agent Sanseverino replies, "He loved Pussy Bonpensiero. What happened to him?"
- In the season 5 episode "Marco Polo", when Phil Leotardo is at Pussy's old body shop getting his car repaired, which is now being run by his wife, Angie, and his brother, Edward "Duke" Bonpensiero, Phil tells Duke, "I was away, in the can when that stuff went down with your brother. What happened there?" Duke replies simply, "We don't like to talk about it."
- In the season 6 episode "Mayham", Paulie talks to Tony while he is in comatose after being shot by Uncle Junior telling Tony about his service in the Army and all the let downs he's had in his life, eventually stating "then there's Pussy, stand up guy one day, rat-fuck the next. I tell you T, I felt it right here (tapping his heart)."
- In the season 6 part II episode "Remember When", Paulie recalls to Tony how he, Tony, Ralph Cifaretto, and Pussy all went out to dinner at a steakhouse after Tony performed his first murder. Fans wondered if Tony was going to kill Paulie in that episode because both Pussy and Ralph ended up being murdered by Tony. While Tony did contemplate stabbing Paulie to death while they were on a fishing boat in Miami, he decided not to do anything to him.
- Rucker, Allen & David Chase. The Sopranos, A Family History. New York, American Library, 2003