Burt Pugach was a mildly successful lawyer who lived in the Bronx way back in ’59. He was thirty-two and no looker, with his Buddy Holly specs and rake-thin build. But he was a bit of a man about town. He owned a nightclub and a light aircraft. One day he met a beautiful local girl in the park. Linda Riss had just the look he loved. She resembled Liz Taylor, with creamy skin, a mane of black hair and a good dollop of glamour. She was only twenty-one, ten years his junior, but they clicked immediately. Burt knew how to charm a woman. He wined and dined Linda like a B-grade rock star, took her on flips in his plane and dancing in his nightclub. He was smitten, and she was warming to his affections.
Then she found out that there was just one small detail Burt had forgotten to mention: he was actually a married man. Like a good girl, Linda quickly broke off the relationship and moved on, starting to date other men.
Burt was heartbroken. Really heartbroken. We’ve all felt heartbreak before, but Burt stepped over the line from heartbreak to harassment. He started following Linda day and night, stalking her and scaring her silly. The cops said there was little they could do about it, so the stalking continued. Eight months later, Linda announced that she was engaged to another man. Burt felt as if his life was over.
The very next day, Linda was at home when the doorbell rang. Pulling back her long black hair, she opened the front door with a grin. A stranger stood in front of her and, before she knew what was happening, he threw a jar of lye acid into her fully exposed face. Burt had put out a contract on her. Linda was blinded in one eye and her skin was disfigured for life. The Liz Taylor lookalike was just twenty-two, and the media went crazy with the story of a lover’s passionate revenge
Burt, now divorced, was put behind bars, but he was still hot for Linda. During the fourteen long years he was in prison, he wrote her countless letters. By then, Linda was living alone and in near poverty, blind in one eye. Then Burt started sending her money. When he was finally paroled, he was put under a restraining order, but he was a media star and the fascination with their story was reignited. A few days after his release, Burt proposed to Linda on local television. The surprise? She accepted.
The thirty-four-year marriage is the subject of a documentary called Crazy Love, and it catches up with Burt and Linda, now both well into their seventies. And what has happened to these fiery lovers who played out their passionate feuds on the front pages of every newspaper?
Well, they live in a small flat. Linda is now completely blind, but still glamorous in a honey-coloured wig and supersized Jackie O sunglasses. It’s a bit more Dame Edna than young Liz Taylor now, though.
She and Burt bicker constantly. About anything and everything. About who will water the plants, who will feed the cats, what to eat for dinner. They argue about the past. Who stalked whom? Who wrote to whom while Burt was in prison? Why did they get married? (‘It’s not that complicated,’ Linda tells a reporter. ‘Things get boring after a while. There was nothing terribly exciting in my life at the time.’)
But they are still together thirty-four years on. They must be doing something right. Even now, totally blind, dependent on him and in her seventies, Linda fights with Burt like a street slugger.
‘I have to be doing something with my hands constantly,’ she tells one reporter as she shows him the fur chokers she makes.
‘Like punch me in the mouth,’ Burt adds.
Linda nods. ‘If I could find him, I would.’
Is this just the sad end of a crazy love story? Is this the fate of love? Even crazy, mad, blinding, all-consuming love that had the tabloids gripped for decades? Are we all going to end up old, wrinkly and sniping at each other over a breakfast bagel?
Quiz … Is your love light waning?
Do you refer to his pub-quiz team as ‘your creepy friends’?
Do you sometimes feel you have nothing in common apart from shared DNA?
Does your weekly row about the best route to school end in a two-day silence?
Have you recently applied for a firearm licence?
Does his Ricky Gervais imitation make you want to hide under the table?
Have you caught yourself wondering what life would be like if you had actually married that MBA bore?
Do you beg off date night so that you can watch Lost: Season 3?
Mostly yes: Red lights should be flashing. You are in opposing camps. No plan survives contact with the enemy.
Mostly no: There are mountains and there are valleys. You are on top right now. Hang in there.