From the life-is-stranger-than-fiction file comes a new documentary about the strange marriage of Burt and Linda Pugach, whose 33-year union proves love is sometimes so blind that it can overcome even extreme violence.
Burt Pugach, now 80, and Linda Riss, a Bronx, N.Y., beauty who was 10 years his junior, dated for two years in the late ‘50s. The problem was that Pugach was already married. When he refused Riss’s pleas to get divorced, she broke off their relationship aannounced her engagement to another man in the summer of 1959.
Burt took their breakup hard. In a fit of insane jealousy, he recruited another man to throw acid in Linda’s face when she answered the door to accept what she thought was an engagement present. The attack, which left Linda blind and disfigured, is still making headlines near a half century later.
“Linda, this man did something terrible to you. He had you disfigured,” TODAY host Matt Lauer said during a live interview with Burt and Linda on Thursday. “Yet when he got out of jail, you decided to get back together and eventually married him. People want to know: How could you have done that?”
Linda, wearing her trademark dark sunglasses, thought for a split moment before answering.
“So much time had lapsed between the time the attack happened, and the time he got out of the can,” she said. “And he looked so good. They did a remarkable job in jail for him. He must have weight lifted. He looked like a brand new guy.”
But Linda wasn’t ready to accept Burt back into her life the moment he got out of prison.
Burt, an attorney at the time of his arrest, was released in the early 1970s after serving 14 years of a 30-year sentence. Over the years, he remained in love with Linda and he kept in touch with her from jail.
‘Always in my face’
“He never stopped bothering me. He’d send me letters. He was always in my face,” Linda recalled. “I would read the letters and say, ‘Get rid of them.’ He was a nuisance.”
The media interest in the sensational crime was rekindled when Burt was released from prison and began appearing on television discussing the crime and his love for Linda.
“How did you have the nerve to get out of prison and pursue her again?” Lauer asked.
“That’s a good question. I don’t know,” Burt said. “I was interviewed on TV. I was prohibited by the terms of my parole from contacting her. Of course, I wanted to, but I was prohibited from doing it. So I proposed on the TV. Apparently, she saw me over the TV and the proposal worked.”
The Pugachs, who lives in Queens, N.Y., say they are like most other couples. They fight about silly little things that really don’t amount to much. But Linda told Lauer that she never brings up the attack, her blindness or the scars left by the acid thrown in her face. “I had made up my mind when I decided to marry him that I would never throw it in his face,” she said. “You either go ahead, or you just stop living.”
Burt, however, said he regrets what he did constantly, and chalked it up to marital and professional pressures that became too much for him to bear at the same time he felt Linda slipping away from him. “Every day. Every day I think of the horror of it,” he said. “I know what I did was wrong.”
The documentary about the Pugachs is called “Crazy Love.” Directed by publicist-turned-filmmaker Dan Klores, is rated PG-13 for language and runs 92 minutes. It has received mixed reviews by critics for the way the film combines the horrific attack with moments of hilarity.