Steve Buscemi makes rare comments about death of wife Jo Andres: 'It's painful to die from cancer'

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

Steve Buscemi is opening up about the 2019 death of his wife of over 30 years, artist and filmmaker Jo Andres.

The iconic actor, 62, gave a rare interview to GQ, ahead of the release of his new film The King of Staten Island, and spoke about his wife’s battle with ovarian cancer. He heartbreakingly recalled how much pain she was in at the end as a result of the disease, and talked about cleaning out the Brooklyn, N.Y. brownstone they shared because it now feels too big to live in alone.

Steve Buscemi opens up about 2019 death of his artist and filmmaker wife, Jo Andres. They are pictured together here in 2017. (Photo: Andrew Toth/FilmMagic)

Buscemi, who married Andres in 1987, said she was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015. While chemotherapy led to remission for a period, the cancer returned in 2017 and it was hard to watch. She died in Jan. 2019.

“The pain was the hardest thing,” Buscemi admitted. “People who are going through that, it's painful. It's painful to die from cancer. There's just no way around it.”

Buscemi admitted he hadn't thought much about death before that — but that has changed.

“If I should happen to go not suddenly, I hope I could be as present as Jo was,” he said. “She led the way. She was surrounded by friends and family. She really faced it. I really don't think she was afraid of dying. I think it was just a whole series of ‘Oh, I don't get to do this anymore.’”

They met in 1983. They lived in the same NYC neighborhood, the East Village, and Buscemi would hurry outside to walk his dog when he knew she would be coming home from work. He was an NYC firefighter, doing comedy during his time off. She was equally interested. He was in a comedy duo at the time and there were handmade posters of his likeness around the neighborhood. She once remarked to a friend upon seeing one, “I'm going to snag that guy.”

When they first started talking, she didn’t immediately realize he was the guy on the posters. She put it together when she visited his apartment for the first time and saw one of the posters there.

“I still remember when she went, ‘That's you,’” he recalled, smiling.

Andres, who was three years older than Buscemi and well-known in the performance-art world, helped boost his confidence and grow his intuitive side. He performed more and eventually left the FDNY to pursue acting.

“Jo really trusted her intuition and would just kind of put images out there and didn't feel the need to have to explain it or have to make sense,” he said. “She just had to feel a certain way, like she was trying to evoke a feeling, or a mood.” (In an acceptance speech after Andres’s death, he called her his biggest supporter and inspiration.)

After they married and had Lucian (now an L.A.-based musician), they moved to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park as his résumé grew, thanks to 1992's Reservoir Dogs, and she continued her avant-garde work, including short films. They started a meditation practice, bought a weekend home upstate — and promised not to be apart for more than three weeks at a time as he traversed the globe making films and TV shows.

“It just became unbearable after three weeks,” Buscemi said of the time apart.

Now over a year after her death, he said he’s cleaning out the brownstone they shared — either moving out of it completely or renting out a floor because it feels too big for him alone. He also doesn’t want Lucian to have to sort through his “junk” one day.

“He'd be the only one when I'm gone,” Buscemi said. “It's him that's going to have to go through everything,” adding, “I'm kind of a hoarder.”

He’s also carefully working to archive the art Andres created.

Buscemi opened up about his grieving process, saying some days he wants to be alone and doesn’t want to be comforted. Others, he feels grateful to have the support of his nearest and dearest. When he had to fly abroad last year for a project after Andres died, he battled anxiety about being far from home. To help with grief, Buscemi has been painting — watercolors — in his kitchen, which has the best lighting.

“Yellow has been a color that I didn't think that I was going to use much, but I do like the brightness of it,” he said. “I thought in the beginning that I would be expressing something dark within me. Maybe it does, but it's been surprisingly fun.”

Asked how he’s feeling with the pandemic on top of his regular struggle, he said, “It's been over a year now since Jo passed, and I'm just starting to feel lighter. It is very strange that, oh, now this is happening. If it was another personal thing, I think that would be really hard. But the fact that everybody's going through it doesn't feel as isolating. It feels like it's something that we're doing together.”

The article — which notes his last name is pronounced boo-sem-ee, not boo-shem-ee — also touches on other exploits through the years, including being stabbed by a stranger during a 2001 bar fight he was in with his Domestic Disturbance co-star Vince Vaughn. Buscemi was reportedly stabbed above the eye and in the jaw, throat and arm, recalled the incident, saying he “came close to death.”

In The King of Staten Island, which stars Pete Davidson and is directed by Judd Apatow, Buscemi plays a firefighter — which he has real-life experience with. (Buscemi also helped his old fire company amid Sept. 11.) It is out June 12.

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