Mary Jo Buttafuoco is an American actress-turned-author and motivational orator. She was shot in her face by the teenage mistress of her husband and the incident turned her world upside down. The former actress has worked in a film titled, ‘Beat Boys, Beat Girls’ and in a couple of TV shows, namely ‘Howard Stern on Demand’ & ‘Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew’. Years after being shot in her face, Mary chronicled her journey of survival in her book, ‘Getting It Through My Thick Skull’. The incident made it to every other tabloid and newspaper so much so that many filmmakers took interest in the subject. A documentary made under the production house Tent City Entertainment, narrates her life story. Mary has undergone numerous surgeries and her survival instinct has eventually become an inspiration to many. She has also started to deliver motivational speeches where she shares her learning from the experience of her excruciating journey.
The Shooting Incident
On May 19 1992, Mary casually answered her door without knowing that this would change her life forever. She was standing on her porch when she was shot in her face by Amy Fisher, Mary’s then husband’s 17-year-old mistress. Fisher didn't threaten her or reveal the gun until she shot Mary. At first, Mary thought she was there to talk about the alleged affair between Joey, her husband, and Fisher’s younger sister. After a brief conversation, the moment Mary turned back to enter her house, Fisher fired a bullet which passed through Mary’s temple, leaving her in a pool of blood. She was immediately admitted to a hospital where she slipped into coma for three days. The incident left one side of her face paralyzed.
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At the beginning of the investigation, Joey, with Mary on his side, denied all the allegations of having any relationship with Fisher. Later, he was found guilty on several grounds and he admitted his sexual relationship with Fisher. He had started a relationship with Fisher when she was still a minor. He was also convicted on the basis of having coerced Fisher to commit the crime and was charged against raping a minor and planning a murder. Joey, an auto-body shop owner, was sentenced to four months of imprisonment for being indicted on many counts of statutory rape, sodomy and endangering the welfare of a child.
Fisher was convicted of attempt to murder and was sentenced seven years in jail. Since she was a minor, she was kept in the juvenile room until she turned 18. After spending seven more years in jail, Fisher was released on a parole in 1999 with the condition that she would never contact the Buttafuoco family again.
The Journey of Survival
Mary suffered from hearing impairment in one of her ears and one side of her face was paralyzed, which made it impossible for her to smile for 25 years. Even though she miraculously survived the close-range shot, she struggled with her deformed face for years. Her initial surgeries were too dangerous and risky, so doctors worked on her face while the bullet was still lodged in her neck. For years after the initial surgeries, she was completely on painkillers, which made her an addict. She showed up recovery when she was moved to the Betty Ford Center, where she had most of her surgeries. After several years, Mary recovered partially and was relieved from pain and blood clots. However, she was still disfigured and paralyzed.
Dr. Babak Azizzadeh, a plastic surgeon, saw her on the Oprah show and offered to treat her facial paralysis, but the ray of hope came with many challenges. Dr. Azizzadeh’s main challenge was contouring while maintaining the symmetry of her face. He started off with a facelift, an eyelift and by repairing some of the nerves that had kept her from smiling. Next, he focused on the surgery to widen the ear canal which improved her hearing and prevented further infections. The procedure was later documented in the journal, ‘Inside Edition’. She also underwent physical therapies to strengthen her facial muscles.
Mary broke her silence with the book, ‘Getting It Through My Thick Skull: Why I Stayed, What I Learned, and What Millions of People Involved with Sociopaths Need to Know’. In the book, she penned every bit of the experiences that she had gained to date. She even answered the much-asked question as to why she stayed back with Joey for so long even after the incident. Mary co-wrote the book with Amber Frey, a writer and also a victim of a similar crime. Apart from the incident, Mary has also revealed many things about her ex-husband. She has mentioned that Joey was a drug addict and had undergone several de-addiction sessions. Mary called him a sociopath and a liar.
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Mary’s more than a decade long survival journey made her realize that people are still unaware and indifferent towards facial paralysis and towards people suffering from it. She used her story to educate many. She also participated in a walkathon to spread the awareness on facial paralysis. She also appeared on the premiere of the series, ‘Scandal Made Me Famous’, aired on the Reelz Channel. The show combined reenactments, exclusive interviews and never-before-seen photos and videos to narrate the story of the infamous crime. The show was hosted by People magazine’s senior writer, Steve Helling.
Tent City and Fremantle Media, North America, announced that they would make a documentary that would be released on the 25th anniversary of the infamous incident. The deal was brokered by Katie Zwick and Christina Kuo. Sharlene Martin of Martin Literary and Media Management, who also represents Mary, will serve as an executive producer with Ansaldi and Lisa Bourgoujian of Tent City Entertainment.
The New Beginning
After Mary divorced Joey in 2003, she married Stu Tendle, a shop manager in Las Vegas, Nevada. The new-found love restored the courage to trust and to believe and with that, she once again found hope in a committed relationship.