Mary Jo Buttafuoco is a woman who was grossly misjudged seventeen years ago when her seemingly blissful suburban existence was interrupted by the bullet of a .25-caliber pistol delivered by a then teenage Amy Fisher. In an instant Mary Jo’s life became one of agonizing pain, confusion and fear. She felt vulnerable and spent the next many years in a haze of prescribed pain medications. Then husband Joey Buttafuoco rallied to Mary Jo’s side, nursing her back to health and vehemently denying any sexual involvement with a sixteen year old Amy Fisher. Joey Buttafuoco eventually served jail time for statutory rape of a minor. This would be the first in a string of brushes with the law for Joey Buttafuoco.
With time brings some perspective of Mary Jo’s plight. Who among us wouldn’t have reacted out of anger and bitterness at their assailant? Who among us would have had the physical or emotional strength to go through a divorce while recovering from a near-fatal bullet wound to the face?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco’s journey from anger and depression to clarity and resilience took her the whole of the nineties. Slowly she emerged from her shell to find love again in Southern California, where she lives peacefully today. Joey Buttafuoco’s and Amy Fisher’s continuous headline grabbing antics are never far behind and continue to haunt her. After years of asking “why,” Mary Jo Buttafuoco has concluded, in her opinion, the reasons behind her ex-husband’s alleged anti-social behavior. She penned the book, Getting It Through My Thick Skull, in hopes of helping others to avoid or remove themselves from the type of relationship that nearly destroyed her spirit.
Mary Jo Buttafuoco is a spirited woman with amazing strength. It resonates from her voice and from her very being. We had a great conversation which has resulted in what I feel is her most candid interview to date.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): I want to start by talking about your recent trip back to Long Island to do some book signings. What kind of feelings did it bring up, and how was the experience for you?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: It was really awesome. This time I came back as an author, and to go and talk in front of people, and to run into a lot of my old friends and neighbors from years ago, it’s just been wonderful. I really feel like I have a message and people are getting it. The response could not be better. I’m so thrilled.
PR.com: Back in the nineties when you were shot, and for years afterwards you didn’t get much public sympathy. People seemed angry with you because you were defending Joey, and you were staying in your marriage. Now people seem to be rallying around you with a lot of support. What do you think has made the difference?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: I think time. And it was such a strange thing. You’re minding your own business, not bothering anybody, and somebody comes and tries to murder you in cold blood. I did the only thing I knew to do which was to defend my husband, because I believed him at the time. This [public] outcry of, “What a dope you are,” it hurt. It was terrible and I didn’t understand it. Nothing can prepare you for this. I wasn’t meant to be in the media spotlight. I didn’t understand the media at the time. I only knew then what I knew then, and what I knew then was what he told me, and I believed him. Now that I’m saying I married a sociopath I’m like, “Oh, ok. Now I get it.” He was a very good liar. Outsiders could see what I could not see.
PR.com: I also think that a lot of people didn’t see that the situation wasn’t black and white. Upon reading your book I realized that you were battered emotionally and spiritually. You were also on heavy pain medication because of your injury. You didn’t have the strength or the clarity to see it for what it was back then.
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: Right. And it’s not an excuse, but it is the reason. That’s the subtitle of the book, “Why I Stayed.” It wasn’t any one particular thing. It was trying to survive and keep my kids and our family together, and you’re right, being in this fog for years because of pain pills.
PR.com: You said that it was your son who came to you describing Joey Buttafuoco as a sociopath. Did you ever ask your son how long he felt that way about his dad?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: It certainly rocked me to hear [my son] say that. Then I looked it up and saw that he was right. I guess he knew for a while because what my ex-husband put my son through I didn’t know about and it was very upsetting. The things that Joe put him through he wouldn’t tell me about. I would say my son figured it out that year in 2007, just on his own. Then for the umpteenth time I said “What is wrong with your father? Why does he do these things?” Paul (Mary Jo’s son) very matter of factly said it to me. He’d actually researched it.
PR.com: How has having Joey Buttafuoco as their father affected your kids’ lives?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: That’s my great pain. Certainly when I married thirty some-odd years ago I never thought my life would turn into this, and I certainly never expected to bring children into the world having to have to go through the pain that they’ve had to go through. That is my burden, although now at 29 and 26 years old they tell me that I’m their strength and they respect me. But it’s not a good thing. They do better than me and they’re a lot smarter than I was at their age.
PR.com: Is there a part of you that was excited to get this book out because you wanted people to see how much your life has changed and that you have a new life, a new man and obviously your appearance has improved?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: You know what Allison, honest to God, I would never have done [this]. I was going along my path, everything was going well in my life and there would have been no way I would have done this if I hadn’t had that knowledge of the sociopath. I realized that people need to know about this. That’s the point of drudging it all up and re-living it, and going out there. It’s more that there’s a message there that needs to be delivered. I was with a sociopath my whole life and I didn’t know it. My family had a brother who was a sociopath, a son who was a sociopath, a parent who was a sociopath; all of this encompassed in Joey Buttafuoco and none of us understood this. We have more cases now like Bernie Madoff, and we’re calling them conmen, but what they really are, are sociopaths. It’s a [problem] that should be exposed.
PR.com: You said something in your book that sent chills up my spine. You mentioned that you were supposed to go shopping with a neighbor on the day you were shot in the face by Amy Fisher. You postponed the shopping trip for the next day so you could stay home and paint your bench.
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: I remember the week before it so clearly. In the book there’s a picture of Joe and I two days before I got shot. My next door neighbor was moving and I was collecting money [for a gift]. I was always good with money in the neighborhood, they always knew to give the money to Mary Jo. I had seen a lot of friends of mine that day and this one friend of mine said, “What day do you want to go shopping?” I said, “Why don’t we go Wednesday. I really want to get that bench painted.” It was that little fate thing. If I had not been home maybe this would never have happened.
PR.com: Do you feel like you were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, or do you feel in retrospect that it was meant to happen for some reason?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: Certainly I wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was home (laughs).
PR.com: I know, but had you been out shopping at that time she would have rang the doorbell and you wouldn’t have been there.
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: But she was gunning for me for six months before. She had a vendetta against me. She could have come another day and gotten me in the house and shot me, and I would have died. She shot me outside and the neighbors just happened to be home. It was this chain of events that happened the way it was supposed to happen. If it was another time my kids might have found me there when they got home from school. In retrospect, it happened the way it was supposed to happen. I wish it didn’t happen at all, but now all these years later, I finally got an answer to, “Lord, what do you want me to do with this? You gave me this infamy. You gave me this platform, if you will. What do you want me to do with it?” I think I’ve got the answer now after seventeen years.
PR.com: I’m sure you’ve contemplated why you survived that serious injury, and thought about why your life was spared. What have you come up with beyond what you just said?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: Back when I was younger and all of this was going on, and the press was hounding me. Like you said, everywhere I went people were talking about us or poking us or driving by the house. There were times where I was like, “Why did I live? You could have just taken me out right there on the front porch. I would never have known anything or felt anything.” So I struggled with that for a long time. Certainly friends and family said, “Well you lived for your children. Your children need you.” And I had survivor’s guilt when I would read or hear stories about young parents who died or were killed. I would say, “Why am I any better than them? Their children needed them too.” Then I got older and went through this journey that I explain in the book, and went to Betty Ford and got out on my own. For a while I thought it was to be with my fiancé Stu and to help take care of his little children. I thought that was my purpose. I guess it’s all these little things; there are a lot of purposes. I’ve got this name. What can I do with it? So I really do feel that maybe my life’s goal is to talk about what I’ve learned and to inspire people.
PR.com: What does the name Amy Fisher represent to you now? What comes to mind when her name comes up?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: I never heard of her before May 19th, 1992 and now that will be on my obituary, her name next to mine. It’s sad. It’s sad to see the kind of life she has. I forgave her. I hoped that she would turn over a new leaf and that she would understand what she did, and grow and learn. It’s so sad to see that she’s 35 years old, she’s got three children and she’s chosen this life of self loathing. To be a Porn star and pole dancer?! I feel disappointed in her for making those choices.
PR.com: In the book you mentioned how your daughter was outraged when Amy Fisher appeared on the Oprah show a few years back. I saw that interview. Not that people would ever forget what she did, but she appeared to have turned over a new leaf during that particular interview. She had gotten married, had kids and was doing some journalism work for the Long Island Press. And then things just got weirder and weirder after that. I don’t get it.
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: I don’t either. I blame her husband because he’s twenty-five years older than her. I even wrote to him once about this. I said, “She’s got psychological problems. What are you doing?” He wrote me back and he said that his life is fine, his wife is fine and he takes good care of his family. And it’s too late now. I don’t know how you recover from this (referring to Fisher’s homemade porn and her stripping).
PR.com: Do you think that someone who is capable of an extreme act of physical violence, like Amy Fisher, is ever capable of changing?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: I don’t know. I can’t even to this day imagine holding a gun in my hand, much less pointing it at the head of a stranger and pulling the trigger. Yet, I don’t think she’s violent anymore. So can they change? I don’t have an answer for that one.
PR.com: What are your thoughts on Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco continuously trying to cash in on their infamy? What was your reaction when in 2007 they had that short lived romantic reunion that they went to the press with?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: Well Allison, that’s what started the conversation with my son. It was that incident. They were on the cover of the New York Post. They were kissing. I was like, “Oh my God!” And my kids were furious! Like, “What is he doing? This woman tried to murder you!” That was when I said, “I don’t get your father. Why does he continue to do this?” That’s when Paul (Mary Jo and Joey Buttafuoco’s son) very calmly and very quietly said, “Because he’s a sociopath and he’s never going to change.” He said, “I looked into this mom. I looked it up and this is what dad is.” That was the revelation that started this whole ball rolling to where we are now, talking to each other today.
PR.com: What were they trying to do? Were they trying to land a reality show deal?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: I think so. I think it was for money. They don’t do anything for nothing. Some idiot probably said, “Hey, if we can drum up enough interest we can get you a reality show.” And guess what? Nobody cared! Nobody cared about these two, so it kind of faded away.
PR.com: Some news broke today which, obviously, I have to ask you about (laughs)…
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: Yeah (laughs). I stand by my statement and I stand by what I say. I know that he (ex-husband Joey Buttafuoco) is suing me claiming defamation of character, and I tried not to giggle too hard when he said that. I stand by every word I said in that book, and I’ll stand up in a court of law and do the same thing. Everything I wrote is the truth. He is a sociopath.
PR.com: Even Perez Hilton defended you. He can be pretty nasty, and he stood up for you on his blog (laughs).
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: I saw that. Now that this [news] is all breaking everybody and their mother is calling me. It’s almost funny because this is a typical sociopath. He doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with it, so he’s insulted that I called him a sociopath and now he’s going to sue me. This just proves my point! This is a man who has been to jail for having sex with an underage teenager, for soliciting a hooker, for insurance fraud. And he’s worried that me calling him a sociopath is going to give him a bad name (laughs).
PR.com: Just to be clear by sociopath you are referring to someone with no empathy and no conscience.
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: The clinical definition of a sociopath is this grandiose charmer with no remorse, no conscience. That is the definition of a classic sociopath, and he’s got all of those symptoms. But it’s hard to diagnose because these people don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. They don’t go and say, “Geez doc, I need help. I don’t know why I don’t feel guilty every time I do something [bad].”
PR.com: And it’s everybody else’s fault all the time.
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: Absolutely.
PR.com: Is there any merit to Joey Buttafuoco’s claim that your book is full of “inaccuracies” as he puts it? Is there anything in the book where you may have put a slant on an event that took place?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I left out a lot of things. The point wasn’t to lambaste him. It wasn’t to bash him. I’ve got children with this man. I was just giving examples of sociopathic behavior. But believe me, there is plenty more that I felt wasn’t necessary. I made my point and I wanted to get the word out. It’s his word against mine, and I think if you put us up against each other one of us has a little more character than the other (laughs). I’m annoyed that he’s doing it. I’m just trying to do my thing here and of course, as usual, here he comes. I’ll defend it to the death. I know that everything I wrote is the truth.
PR.com: Are you afraid of Joey Buttafuoco?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: No. He’s not violent at all. I feel sorry for him, and I feel sad for this whole situation. I was once a young woman who got married and thought I was doing the right thing. I loved this man and I had children with this man. I feel very sad that I learned this about him, and now he’s suing me. Think about it Allison, I was the one who stood by his side after I was shot.
PR.com: Let’s move on to other things. Did your fiancé Stu really not know who you were when you first met?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: (Laughs) It’s funny because when the guy I was dating said Stu is from Long Island he failed to say that he left Long Island in 1979. Stu lived out here in California. Certainly he knew the name [Mary Jo Buttafuoco], but it had been ten years, and in the mind of Californians it wasn’t that big of a story out here. My face wasn’t familiar to him so when I said, “I bet you know who I am,” he looked at me and he says, “Who the fuck are you?” I wanted to die! But he said it in this way like, am I supposed to know who she is? Then my friend said, “That’s Mary Jo Buttafuoco,” and Stu said, “Oh my God, I feel like such a jerk.”
PR.com: So you didn’t have to fill him in on your history?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: No. But of course as he has said to me since, “Ooh, I went home and I got on the computer, and I rented the TV movie.” Now he’s telling me, and I’m like oh great (laughs)!
PR.com: By the way, your fiancé has the sweetest, kindest face.
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: He does. He has the sweetest smile. I call him my sweet Stu. He has these eyes and this smile, and he’s just such a good man. And he’s so good about this. Here I am, he’s by my side, and all I’m doing is talking about my ex-husband, and he’s just by my side and supports me in this. Now here we go with Joey suing me. Stu is very angry about it, but he is supporting me on this. A lot of guys might have said, “Who needs this?” And run in the other direction, but not him. He’s wonderful. I’ve been very blessed at this stage of my life to have love like this.
PR.com: You deserve it. I want to ask you about healthcare reform. You were very dependent upon the healthcare system for a long time after you were shot. What are your thoughts on President Barack Obama’s ideas about healthcare reform?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: It’s such a quagmire. I was very blessed at the time to have a very good insurance policy. God only knows if I hadn’t, what I would have gone through. In this day and age I feel that we all should be entitled to healthcare. It should be the American way. The problem is we are in a free society where people need to make money. People become doctors to help people, but certainly to make a living. This is a Capitalist society. It’s not wrong that they want to make money. I don’t have any real hard stance. I would just love to see all people have some sort of basic insurance. I wish people had better well care instead of [having] to wait until they’re sick. Well care would save us, in the long run, a lot of money if things were diagnosed sooner.
PR.com: Based on your experience, do you think there should be special provisions made within the healthcare system and within health insurance for victims of violent crimes?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: Absolutely. I would love to see a fund set up for that. Sometimes victims of violent crime are poor people. We see it all the time in the inner cities, and they don’t get the care they need. Victims are just that. They didn’t ask for it, they didn’t cause it, it’s not something that they wanted and so they should absolutely have whatever healthcare they need for whatever injuries they have.
PR.com: What’s the most misunderstood thing about who you are?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: I was brought into the public eye as a very sick, angry young woman. Nobody knew me on television as anything but having this crooked face, with my skinny little body and my head shaved. I was angry and I was on a lot of medication. People now are going, “Wow! You’re smart,” or “You’re funny!” People didn’t realize that maybe I am a little smart and have a brain in my head, and that I’m a little bit witty. I can hold my own on these TV shows that I’ve been on. So maybe that’s it, that I was this Stepford wife. And I really, really wasn’t. They caught me at a bad time. It’s not fun when you get shot in the face (laughs). They didn’t catch me on one of my better days!
PR.com: (Laughs) That’s funny. If on May 1st in 1992 someone had asked you what your ten or twenty year plan was for the future how would you have responded at that particular time?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: I would have said that I’m going to go back to school and once the kids grow up I’m going to go work in my family’s auto body repair business. And Joey and I would enjoy the fruits of our labor, and we’d be sitting on our deck watching the sunset on a nice summer night. The kids would be grown up and maybe even married with a child or two of their own. I’d have my grandchildren come and visit me at my home and we’d take them out for rides on the boat. That’s what I thought.
PR.com: How is California and this new life treating you?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: I learned that life takes its own path. It’s certainly not where I thought I would be… in the state of California, writing a book, all of this stuff. I’ve learned just to let it go and follow where God wants me to go. For a few years back in the 90s I fought it very much. I wanted my life back. I wanted that life in that house, no matter what. I went through a depression when I came out here (to California), because I couldn’t let go of that. But this journey that I’ve been on, in some ways it’s been remarkably better. I’ve been able to travel; I’ve been able to talk to people. I’m out here now and I have a wonderful life. It’s with different people and it’s not what I expected, but I’ve got to tell you, I’m very fortunate.
Mary Jo Buttafuoco’s memoir, “Getting It Through My Thick Skull,” is now available through HCI Books (hcibooks.com), at Amazon.com and all major bookstores.