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[The Strip Sense]

Las Vegas provides a haven for the D-lister

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Illustration: Ryan Olbrysh

A couple of days after U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson, Fox 5 in Las Vegas finally came up with a brilliant “local” angle: Mary Jo Buttafuoco. There she was, the second most famous woman in America to have survived a gunshot wound to the head, explaining to reporter Matt DeLucia what Giffords will experience based on what Mary Jo suffered after her husband’s teenage lover assaulted her.

I was riveted, and not just because it was a terrific, unique approach to a national story that was running out of steam. No, like most everyone who saw DeLucia’s report that night, I turned to my companion and said, “Mary Jo Buttafuoco lives in Vegas now?”

Of course she does. This city has always been known as the place where washed-up crooners go to die. But now we have another unusual class we’re equally likely to encounter at Bagelmania or Dillard’s: 1990s tabloid darlings!

Buttafuoco is only our latest import. But she could totally end up in line at the South Point buffet along with Gennifer Flowers, John Wayne Bobbitt, Heidi Fleiss or Mike Tyson. (It’s my column, so I get to include Pahrump’s Fleiss if I want to.)

They wash up on our sandy neon shores via many paths. Buttafuoco, who survived being shot in 1992 and recovered with minor paralysis and some hearing loss, fled her native Long Island to build a new life where she wouldn’t be hounded by the press. She settled in California, and that was fine, but her longtime boyfriend got a job as manager of Print Las Vegas, so they moved.

“New York was terrible. I couldn’t go anywhere without being noticed,” Buttafuoco told me. “Here I can go out and do anything, go anywhere. It’s much better.”

Fleiss, the former “Hollywood Madam” who went to jail in connection with her whores-direct-to-the-stars service, crash-landed in Southern Nevada around 2005 with plans to start a male brothel in Pahrump. Those plans fizzled, but she remained to become owner of a coin-op laundry and noted owner of many parrots. Bobbitt, whose wife chopped off his dinkus in 1993 and tossed it out the car window in Manassas, Virginia, ended up here by 1997 and, according to the Review-Journal’s Norm Clarke, does odd jobs when he’s not in jail for this or that. And ear-biter Tyson has homes and baby mamas all over the place but lives full-time around the corner from Wayne Newton, at least according to the sex offender registry card that the convicted rapist fills out every so often.

What’s the appeal? Flowers, whose long-term affair with Bill Clinton when he was Arkansas governor nearly derailed his 1992 presidential campaign, has a theory. The lounge singer, who moved to Vegas in 1997 and starred for a time in the venerable comedy revue Bottoms Up, now makes a living doing her act and lending her name to a line of turquoise jewelry.

“Las Vegas is a place where, let’s face it, over the years there’s been lots of scandals,” Flowers said. “Hell, it was started by the Mafia. It’s more tolerant and more accepting, and people that go there expect it and they enjoy it and they open their minds to it. For them, it’s fun and exciting. They’re not so judgmental.”

Apparently, other places aren’t so forgiving. Flowers said she’s been uninvited to serve the homeless at Thanksgiving “because of my situation.” In Dallas, she was booked as a headliner and then asked not to come.

“Listen, I’ve lived in other cities and it is not the same,” she said. “Vegas isn’t that way. They welcome you not only with open arms but open minds. And that is just not typical in most cities.”

Hear that, Rielle Hunter? Rod Blagojevich? Brett Favre? What are y’all waiting for?

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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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