(via Mary Jo Buttafuoco/Getty Images)
In the early '90s, everyone had a joke about the "Long Island Lolita." The tale of the promiscuous, troubled teenager who shot her lover's wife in broad daylight fueled late night monologues, "Saturday Night Live" skits, and endless tabloid alliterations.
As a kid I remember lighthearted debates over who made the better Amy Fisher: Alyssa Milano or Drew Barrymore, both cast as stars of the made-for-TV movies. The pronunciation of 'Buttafuoco' seemed to keep adults in stitches, as did impressions of a facially-paralyzed Mary Jo.
Looking back on the 20-year anniversary of Fisher's sentencing, the story is not the joke or sensation I remembered it once to be. It's a sad story about a troubled kid, a cheating husband, an era of demented tabloid journalism, and a woman who survived it all.
At 57, Mary Jo Buttafuoco is both prepared and reluctant to talk about the case. In an email this week to Yahoo! Shine, she offered only a nutshell description of all that happened, perhaps exhausted by the topic that's dominated her life.
"Wow, 20 years," Mary Jo wrote. "20 years ago I was angry, sick, and stupid. I look back at old tapes and I barely remember that naive young woman."
Fisher leaving court in 1992. (New Daily News via Getty)
Back in 1991, Mary Jo, a stay-at-home mom of two kids, was painting benches in the backyard of her Long Island home when a teenager rang her doorbell, informed her of her husband's infidelity, and then shot her in the head, leaving her partially paralyzed in her face and deaf in one ear.
The fact that she survived was short of a miracle. Then when she returned home from the hospital, facing a future of physical therapy and multiple surgical procedures, she became the focus of hostile media attention. Why was she defending her husband after he cheated on her with a teenager? Why didn't she leave him?
"The kids were little...I was raised Irish Catholic...I didn't know anybody who ever got a divorce," she later said in a 2007 interview with Oprah.
It was only in 2003, over a decade after she was shot, that Mary Jo decided to leave her husband. In 2012, she finally remarried. In a quickie ceremony near her new home in Las Vegas, she wed a print shop manager named Stu Tendle.
Mary Jo with her new husband Stu.
"Now I am in a positive, healthy relationship," she told Shine. "My children are grown and are productive, loving people." But Mary Jo's positivity seems to stop when it comes to the two people with whom she's forever linked. "Amy Fisher does porn," she wrote. "I don't know what Joey does."
Joey filed a defamation lawsuit against Mary Jo in '09 after she published the book, "Getting It Through My Thick Skull," in which she refers to her ex as a "sociopath." They've since spoken but haven't met face-to-face in 3 years. Earlier this year, Joey, now 56, announced he was working on his own set-the-record-straight memoir.
Amy Fisher also published two memoirs after her release from prison, so it's hard to imagine there's much more of this story to tell.
Fisher was 16 when she first started seeing Joey Buttafuoco, and 18 when she was sentenced—on December 1st of 1992—to 15 years in prison for shooting his wife in the head. She got out after six years, thanks, in part, to a letter penned by Mary Jo pleading for clemency.
A decade after walking of out prison, Fisher delivered a half-hearted apology to her victim on Oprah, which Mary Jo later rebuked. The acrimony Fisher had for Mary Jo didn't seem to subside after that. "I feel no sympathy for Mary Jo the multimillionaire," she told FoxNews in 2008. "The fact that Mary Jo has a bullet in her head means nothing."
Ever since her conviction, Fisher, now 38, has been the subject of leaked tapes and romantic betrayals, which may account for some of her bizarrely unrepentant behavior. There was the boyfriend who sold a tape of Fisher talking about her new car to a tabloid TV show during the height of her infamy. And more recently, there was the sex tape, which her husband—the father of her three kids—allegedly sold to a pornographic video company. That led to a series of pornographic videos and nude appearances, which soon became her main source of income.
"I make adult films, and I look at it as they are offering employment—I need employment, no one else will give me employment," Fisher said during her stint as a cast member on Dr. Drew's Celebrity Rehab in 2011.
After the VH1 series ended, Fisher receded from the spotlight, changing her name to Elizabeth Bellers. In 2012 she reportedly bought a home and moved to Florida with her husband and kids. She does not appear to be making pornographic films at this time.
A recent photo of Amy Fisher with husband Lou. (Getty Images)
If Fisher still sees an antagonist in Mary Jo, she may have found in an ally in Joey—who spent 4 months behind bars for sleeping with Fisher when she was a teenager. Like Fisher, he's spent the past decade seeking opportunities to profit off his notoriety. He's done everything from celebrity boxing to appearing in a TV courtroom to sue a call girl over an auto shop bill.
In 2006, he joined forces with Amy Fisher to maximize their dwindling star power. Their long-awaited public reunion, which at one point would have played out on a major news show, instead took place at the Lingerie Bowl. They flipped a coin, kissed sloppily for the cameras and seemed to revel in their campy infamy. Maybe it was their way of joining in the bad joke that's haunted them for so long.
With a bullet still lodged in her skull, Mary Jo has not taken the same approach to the past. Now a board member for The Facial Paralysis Institute, she recently underwent another complicated surgery, this time to restore her ability to smile. "I'm not a joke, " she said back in 2007. It's a little heart-breaking to think that she ever was.