LOS ANGELES _ Mary Jo Buttafuoco does not look like a woman who has been shot in the head. She looks, for lack of a better word, normal. The wounds have healed. She has undergone plastic and reconstructive surgery. She is not as we remember her from the 1990s. Her Long Island accent has faded since she relocated to the West Coast and she has found love with a new man. She has moved onward and, from all appearances, upward since the day Amy Fisher shot her on her front porch in 1992. Mary Jo Buttafuoco, 55, looks like a woman you might see standing next to you in a bank, or at the grocery store, or at a school meeting, only, at the moment, she isn’t standing in any of those places. She’s sitting in my living room, eating cookies, and we’re about to talk about the time she was shot in the head.
I met Mary Jo – she only goes by Buttafuoco when she promotes her book – at the party of a mutual friend. I am the host of a podcast. My producer Mike and I asked Mary Jo to be a guest on the show. After months of back and forth, we finally agreed to a date. She would come on the show to promote her book Getting It Through My Thick Skull: Why I Stayed, What I Learned, and What Millions of People Involved with Sociopaths Need to Know. Hell of a title, right? In return, our podcast, which has had some real talented people on as guests, would get an hour with its first world-famous individual.
The Second Column podcast is a talk show that hinges on a prepared interview but quickly becomes freewheeling, tangential and improvisational. Guests who are quick, and like to bust balls, excel. Mary Jo excelled. She was honest, funny and unafraid. During the podcast we talked about waking up in the hospital after being shot in the head by Amy Fisher, why she stood by her husband Joey Buttafuoco for so long, her family’s appearances on The Howard Stern Show, watching the Long Island Lolita movie objectively for the first time and saying no to a reality show pitch that would have lowered the already crude standards of reality television. This interview was taken from The Second Column podcast, Episode 141. Its quotes have been edited for length.
How do you survive being shot in the head? Turns out you need an incredibly thick skull, therapy, the ability to change your life, the time and energy to publicly defend your name, forgiveness and a good sense of humor.
Second Column: What was the inspiration for the title of the book?
Mary Jo Buttafuoco: When we were writing, it was always in the back of our head, ‘What am I going to call this?’ ‘I’m A Survivor’ or ‘I Survived’ or things like that. Then I told this story to my co-writer, about waking up in the hospital, and looking at all of them. It was a family joke from the time when I was a little girl, I had a thick, Irish skull. I was stubborn. I’m a Taurus. I fit the mold. My mother — that always would be her phrase to me. ‘Mary Jo, when are you going to get it through your thick skull?’ Proceeded by, ‘You can’t go out. You can’t do this.’ When this happened, I woke up. I just saw looks of devastation. They didn’t think I was going to survive. They were all standing over me. It was this horrible thing. I had almost been murdered. I had been shot in the head. They didn’t expect me to live. My kids were little. When I wake up, my first instinct was to want to comfort them. I knew I had been shot. I remember hearing it from a nurse. I looked at my mom and said, ‘See, mom, this thick skull really came in handy.’
SC: One of the reasons you wrote the book was the discovery of why you stayed in your marriage so long.
MJB: Joe and I split up in 2000. This revelation came about three years ago now. We were out in the backyard having a couple drinks. It was Father’s Day. For the eight millionth time I was lamenting, ‘Why does your father do the things he does?’ He had just done some awful, awful publicity stunt with Amy Fisher on national television. They were all over the paper. The kids were really mad at him, as rightly they should be. This was the woman who tried to murder their mom. I’m saying, ‘I don’t get him. Why does he do this s*^&?’ (My son) Paul just matter-of-factly said, ‘Because he’s a sociopath.’ That word, to me, meant a serial killer. That word just bothered me so bad. I was like, ‘No, he’s not. He’s not like that. He’s not a murderer. He doesn’t beat us up.’ I went on the computer and I put in the word and I started seeing all these signs. … When I read them, I attribute it to being like Helen Keller, after Anne Sullivan spelled out the word water and she realized it meant something. It was like this thing unlocked. Oh my God, this is what I have been living with for 25 years. This lying, this inability to feel guilt or have remorse. The words were spoken, but nothing was ever done to change it. The first thing I can remember is when I was nine months pregnant with my son. I don’t remember when we were young and we were dating and anything happened. When I was pregnant with my son, (Joey) ran away from the cops and went on a high-speed chase. I’m 24 years old. I’m nine months pregnant. He’s like, ‘It’s no big deal.’ Everything was like, ‘No big deal.’ I would be scared out of my mind and frightened and he’d be like, ‘It’s fine. Everything’s fine. What are you getting all excited about?’ He’d make me laugh and promise he would never do it again and he was sorry, if he did do it. This was the dance that we did all of our lives.
SC: You wanted to believe him.
MJB: He’s charming. He’s funny. He’ll help you out, if you needed it. But that’s part of his behavior. I won’t call it an illness. I call it a mental behavior. I say this, and my daughter (Jessica) is sitting here. He is charming and sweet and funny, but he has this self-destructive streak that destroys everybody around him. He’ll tell you he’s sorry. I had years of promises it will never happen again. ‘I swear it will never happen again.’ I believed it because he looked like he was sorry. He said all the right words. As time goes on and you learn about sociopaths, they mimic normal people. They know what to do and what to say. That’s how they survive in society. Joe gets very upset when I say this word (sociopath), as if he’s crazy. I say, ‘No you’re not crazy. You’re missing that little chip in you that feels bad or guilty for the things you’ve done over the years.
SC: What was the incident that led your son Paul to conclude that he was a sociopath?
MJB: I think (Joey) was led to believe he was going to make some money, because it always is about money, with Amy, if they got together and went on a date. So they did, and it was devastating. That’s how we found out. We saw it on the news.
SC: I do remember listening to The Howard Stern Show and those two called in together at one point.
MJB: They pretended that they were in bed together. One was in California and one was in New York. Howard really got fed up. I think that’s the last time he had them on. He said, ‘You know what? Stop bulls$#%ting me. Come on. How stupid do you think I am?
SC: Your daughter Jessica, at one point, called into the show.
MJB: That was when Amy Fisher was there. My Jessie got right in there.
SC: I think Howard dubbed it the shortest interview he’s ever done.
MJB: They wanted me to call in. (Producer) Gary Dell’Abate called me and said, ‘Mary Jo, Amy Fisher’s coming in tomorrow and we want you to call in.’ I’m like, ‘You know what, Gary? I’m past this. I’m past this game. Do whatever you gotta do.’ I said, ‘I’m sure that Jessica might have something to say to you.’
SC: Jessica, you called into the show. What did you say?
Jessica Buttafuoco: She (Amy) was on the show for maybe, like, five minutes. I called in. It was a set-up. They talked to her for a couple of minutes. She was super nervous. She’s going on and talking and I’m listening to the whole broadcast. She’s talking about nonsense. It’s four o’clock in the morning California time, and I’m like, ‘Oh, hell, no.’ I was not feeling it. Howard was like, ‘Well, our next guest, we have Jessica calling in and she’d like to talk to you.’ And Amy just was like (gasps) and completely froze.
MJB: She said, ‘I don’t want to talk to her.’
JB: She said, ‘I came here to talk to you, Howard. I don’t want to talk to her.’ I chimed in out of nowhere, ‘Well, I didn’t want you to come to my front doorstop and shoot my mother in the face, but that happened.’
MJB: That was it.
JB: Amy just took off her headphones and walked out. Her husband went crazy. Everyone was like, ‘That’s the quickest interview we’ve ever had.’ You’re welcome, Howard.
MJB: This is how stupid Amy is. If I had done something so horrible at 17 years old, and we all do stupid things, I would have said, ‘I’m sorry. I apologize. You can say whatever you want to me. I was wrong.’ This attitude of, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ As if, ‘I’m not here to talk about it. I’m here to promote my sex tape.’ Like we’re past that. ‘I’m a porno star now. I just shot that lady in the head – whatever. We’re past that. I don’t want to talk about it.’ That’s where she’s losing people.
SC: You publicly forgave Amy. How did you come to that decision?
MJB: It took seven years. Think about seven years. In the beginning I was angry. I wanted to kill her myself. How dare you? You came to my house. I’m painting. This kid did this and caused this insanity in my life and my children and my husband and my parents. I became very addicted to the pain medication. I had a lot of surgeries. It was really, really bad for about three or four years.
SC: The details in the book about the pain that you were in are vivid, and it’s unbelievable what you had to endure, daily. Four times a day getting (the bullet hole) cleaned out.
MJB: It was easier to take a pill. I’m hurting. I’m in pain. I’ve got chaos. I’m trying to raise two kids. I’m trying to deal with Joe and his getting arrested and this, that and the other thing. So I was angry for many, many years. It was in 1998 when I was offered the opportunity to go into the Betty Ford Center. That was by Dominic Barbara, my attorney. He could see I was like a zombie. I was functioning. I never had a car accident. They never peeled me off the ceilings. I don’t think my kids ever thought, ‘Boy, mom is out of it.’ I was functioning with these massive quantities of pills in me. It was when I went into Betty Ford. They were the ones who said to me, ‘Mary Jo, this has happened to you. This is it. Do you want to live like this the rest of your life, pissed off, angry all the time and ready to kill everybody?’ It was that slow turn as I’m detoxing. You’re right. This is it. I can’t change any of it. That was the beginning of turning my head around to I’ve got to let this go. When I got out the following year it came to me (Fisher) was going to have a new trial. They said, ‘Mary Jo, how would you feel about letting her get out now and be on parole for four years?’ I was like, ‘I am ready to do this.’ By that time I was ready to say, I forgive you. Not because it was OK, what you did, but because I have got to let this go.
SC: You divorced in 2003. What is your current relationship with Joey?
MJB: I have no relationship with him.
SC: Does he ever try to reach out to you?
SC: I’m sure the kids still talk to him.
MJB: According to my kids, he thinks about me all the time and talks about me all the time, but that’s the sociopath telling my children what he thinks they want to hear.
SC: You had a normal, private life, then you were in the spotlight and now, except for the book, you have a private life again. How do you come to terms with the fact that there is a Mary Jo Buttafuoco in a TV movie (Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story)?
MJB: For the first time I watched the movie, really sat down and watched it about a year ago, and really looked at it objectively for the first time in my life and didn’t have that pit in my stomach, and said, ‘Know what? Some of this is pretty true. Yeah, they did an OK job with it.’
SC: The movie ends on you. You get the last look and you’re pissed off.
MJB: It’s funny because it was only the beginning. When I said (dramatic Long Island accent), ‘It’s ov-ah, Joey! It’s ov-ah!’ I look now and go, ‘S&%#, it was just beginning.’
MJB: Absolutely. Living in a house with Joey and his wife, Amy Fisher and her husband, and me and (fiancée) Stu.
SC: Whose idea was that?
MJB: Some reality show. I said I would rather starve to death than do that.
SC: Then they said they would film that, too.
MJB: Stu said, ‘Don’t put me in a house, because I’ll kill Amy, and then I’ll probably kill (Joey’s second wife) Evanka. It was unbelievable that was actually proposed to us. Those two morons (Fisher and Buttafuoco) signed on. It would have gone on. At one point there was talk of Dr. Phil coming on, too. I didn’t let it get that far.
SC: Anything you want to add before we go?
MJB: I try not to take this too seriously. It was something very horrible that happened in my life – the worst thing that could ever happen. The nice thing is that I’m still alive. We can laugh and joke. I have my kids. I watch them grow up. I’ve got this wonderful man. And I get to do things like this, that I’ve never done before.