Back in 1996, actor Tom Cruise ruled the box office with Jerry Maguire and Mission: Impossible (he was years away from jumping on Oprah’s sofa); the band Los del Rio ruled the airwaves with “Macarena”; and former teacher Mary Kay Letourneau ruled the front page of every major national newspaper—both the reputable ones and the tabloids. For those too young to remember the 1990s—or old enough to forget—Mary Kay was a teacher in the Seattle suburbs who made headlines when she began a sexual relationship with her very, very, very young student, Vili Fualaau. How young, you ask? Vili was only 12 years old.
The couple stayed in the news throughout the years due to their many trials (literally) and tribulations—including a criminal trial and jail time, followed by a marriage, divorce, and Mary Kay’s death. But even 27 years later, the story of Mary Kay and Vili continues to resonate due to the darkness of Mary Kay’s crimes and the question of whether Vili really ever stopped being a victim even after he became a husband.
May December, a very meta film starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, is loosely based on the story of Mary Kay and Vili. The premise: 20 years after becoming tabloid fodder, a married couple with a very large age gap (played by Moore and Charles Melton) spend time with an actress (Portman) who wants to study them for the role she’s playing in a biopic based on their lives. So in the spirit of the present-day movie, let’s take a look at the past.
So who is Mary Kay Latouneau?
Mary Kay began life as Mary Katherine Schmtiz. She was raised in a very Catholic strict household by mother Mary and her dad, John G. Schmitz, a California state senator and U.S. Representative. Incidentally, John was also a teacher at Santa Ana College, and in a real stroke of foreshadowing, he ended up having an extramarital affair with a student and secretly fathered two children. The revelation ended his political career.
But back to Mary Kay—she was a pretty blonde cheerleader in high school and a pretty blonde coed at Arizona State University. It was at college that her dad’s misdeeds became public. As Mary Kay’s childhood friend Michelle Lobdell told the New York Post back in August of 2022, “Something in her changed [after the scandal]. Her ability to make decisions in her life based on things that were good for her, I think she lost that ability. She lived in a fantasy world, because it was the only world she could stand.”
It was also during college that Mary Kay began dating Steve Latourneau. When she found herself pregnant, her very Catholic mother urged her to get married, so the couple walked down the aisle and eventually had four children.
Okay, but why is Mary Kay Latourneau famous?
Well, infamous might be a better word for it, but the long and the short of it is that, at the age of 34, Mary Kay began an affair with her sixth-grade student, Vili Falaau, age 12. She had known Vili since second grade, when she was his teacher and took him under her wing and began nurturing his artistic talent. Just four years later, the pair were discovered acting suspiciously by police in Mary Kay’s car. They managed to talk their way out of getting in trouble. Then Steve discovered some love letters—along with the fact that Mary Kay was six months pregnant. A relative of Steve’s called the police and Mary Kay was arrested. She pled guilty to two counts of child rape.
Did Mary Kay Latourneau go to jail?
Not right away! Per The New York Times, the judge in the case really wanted to go easy on Mary Kay—did we mention that she was a pretty blonde? The judge had her serve a few months and suspended the rest of her sentence. All Mary Kay had to do to avoid jail was to avoid contact with Vili. ''I give you my word,'' Ms. Letourneau told the judge. ''It will not happen again.''
Spoiler alert: It did happen again. Again, per The Times: “In testimony today, police officers said they found Ms. Letourneau at 2:40 A.M. on Tuesday inside her car with the boy, who is now 14 and was recently suspended from school. Searching the car, the officers found a box with $6,500 in cash, baby clothes and a hidden passport, all of which indicated that the two planned to leave the area with their 9-month-old baby, the authorities said.”
After that, the judge had to choice but to reinstate the original sentence. Mary Kay birthed her second daughter by Vili—who was still very much a minor, by the way—when she went to jail. Her first husband, Steve, presumably had enough. He filed for divorce and full custody of the couple’s four children. He eventually remarried, had more children, and fled the spotlight for a safer haven in Alaska.
What happened when Mary Kay Latourneau got out of jail?
After Mary Kay’s release in 2004, she registered as a sex offender. But Vili was now 21 and the couple was determined to be together. They filed to have their court-ordered no-contact order lifted so that they could exchange vows. They did just that in front of 200 guests in May of 2005, per People.
The couple sat down with People a year into their marriage and Mary Kay shared that they do “normal” things, including going out for Mexican food and renting movies at Blockbuster. Still, the age difference continued to present unique challenges to their marriage. As Letourneau tried to integrate her older children into her new family, things got weird. Again, per People, “Fualaau said his relationship with Letourneau's oldest son, who is only one year younger than him, could be strained: ‘I feel a bit of competition, like, who deserves mom's attention more?’”
Also maybe not the most normal thing? The duo hosted a “Hot for Teacher Night” at a Seattle bar in 2009—Mary Kay emceed and Vili deejayed.
How long were Mary Kay Latourneau and Vili Fualaau married?
After 12 years of marriage, Vili filed for legal separation in 2017. Despite the change in legal status, they continued to live together, along with their daughters, Audrey and Georgia, until 2019, when they split for good.
Is Mary Kay Latourneau still alive?
No, Mary Kay was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer and died in 2020 at the age of 58. Still the couple was far from estranged. People reported that Fualaau was by her side when she died, and Mary Kay bequeathed most of her estate to him.
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