Linda Pugach, 75; blinded, she wed man behind attack

Linda and Burton Pugach in 1974, after his release from prison. He had proposed to her on live television.
Magnolia Pictures
Linda and Burton Pugach in 1974, after his release from prison. He had proposed to her on live television.

NEW YORK — Linda ­Pugach, who was blinded in 1959 when her lover hired hit men to throw lye in her face, and became a media sensation after marrying him, has died at 75, her husband said Thursday.

The infamous New York City crime was detailed in the 2007 documentary “Crazy Love.”

Mrs. Pugach, who wore dark glasses for the rest of her life, died Tuesday at Long Island Jewish Hospital in Queens. The cause was heart failure, said her husband, Burton Pugach, who spent 14 years in prison for hiring thugs to attack his girlfriend Linda Riss after she spurned him. He was married, and the heinous attack became an instant tabloid sensation.


After his release, Burton ­Pugach divorced and persuaded Riss to marry him in 1974. He proposed to her on live TV.

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“This was a very fairy tale ­romance,” a sobbing Burton ­Pugach said Thursday.

After the release of “Crazy Love,” Mrs. Pugach praised filmmaker Dan Klores for revealing a story that for the first time “has colors — it was no longer black and white.”

Two decades after his release from prison, he was accused in another case with chilling similarities but acquitted in 1997. He was accused of threatening and harassing another lover after she tried to end their five-year affair. That woman said he threatened to make it “1959 all over again.”

He said in an interview at the time: “Haven’t you ever threatened to kill your husband? Did you mean it? Of course not. . . . This has been blown out of proportion like I’ve never seen.”


Linda Pugach testified at that trial, describing her husband as a good man. Under cross-examination by Burton Pugach, a disbarred lawyer who defended himself, she said she could not have sex with him ­after undergoing heart surgery in 1990.

“He was a naughty little boy and he was caught,” she said as she left the courtroom on his arm. She said he was an adulterer, not a criminal.

Burton Pugach said his wife went into the hospital Dec. 26, two days before they had scheduled a trip to Florida to buy a property in Boca Raton. ‘‘I don’t know how I’m going to go on without her,’’ he said.

On Thursday he again ­denied that he was ever ­involved in the attack.

“If I had told anyone to throw lye at her, would she have married me? A monster does that,” he said.


Linda Pugach was buried in Paramus, N.J. on Thursday. “There’s a place for me there. We’ll be together,” he said.