Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero

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Vincent Pastore (Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero)

"Sometimes you gotta do things you don't want to...If you're lookin' for a purpose in life, doin' what's right is your purpose."

The late Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero was the big brother Tony never had. Heavy-set and gregarious, he valued family above all else and had a special knack with kids. His own children adored him, and for years he was a Santa Claus nonpareil at the Satriale's Christmas party. Meadow and Anthony, Jr. were the only kids in their neighborhood with a doting Uncle Pussy, and he was an important part of many Soprano rites of passage: he was A.J.'s confirmation sponsor and on the night Tony lost his virginity, Pussy took him out for a steak.

But just because Pussy had a soft spot for kith and kin doesn't mean he was a pushover. He made his bones with Johnny Boy Soprano's crew, and rumor has it he acquired his nickname because he was once a cat burglar. (The "Big" was appended to distinguish him from another wise guy with a feline moniker, Little Pussy Malenga.) Killing was a part of the job, and Pussy was called on to "step up" several times during his career. He was unsentimental about it: "The more of them you do, the better you'll sleep." There were times, though, when dispatching someone was emotionally gratifying, as when Pussy and Tony personally executed Matt Bevilaqua for taking part in a hit on Christopher.

Ultimately, it was his love of family that was Pussy's undoing. Caught smuggling heroin, the FBI offered him a choice: become a confidential informant or spend the rest of his life in a federal penitentiary. To say it was an agonizing decision is a supreme understatement. If Pussy helped the feds get Tony, he was betraying a man he loved, a guy who would catch a bullet for a friend. If Pussy didn't cooperate, he'd be in prison - isolated from his children and with no way to pay for the college education that would keep them from ending up like their father. Pussy agreed to wear a wire.

One morning, Tony, Silvio and Paulie took Pussy for a boat ride and, when they were far enough from shore, confronted him. To his credit, Pussy didn't live up to his name in his final moments. He made an attempt to talk his way out of it - it's expected in these situations. But when at last guns were drawn, Pussy asked only for a seat and that they aim away from his face. Afterward, Tony, Paulie and Silvio wrapped Pussy's body in chains, pushed it overboard and headed back to shore. It was a painful rite of passage for all involved.