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Beloved character actor Steve Buscemi has played a part in so many of our most American stories, from crime dramas like Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, The Sopranos, and Boardwalk Empire to comedic appearances in The Big Lebowski, 30 Rock, and more. Nothing livens up the screen like a cameo from Buscemi, whose trademark twitchiness and familiar eyes we’ve all come to appreciate. So being a big star, you might think that Buscemi has lived in Hollywood for decades. But in fact, he is the ultimate New Yorker. And the story of how Buscemi met his wife Jo Andres is, fittingly, a wonderful New York love story. Sadly, Andres died of cancer in 2019. She was a wildly successful artist in her own right.

Steve Buscemi on Saturday Night Live

Steve Buscemi and Jo Andres Meet

Steve Buscemi was raised in Long Island and planned to follow in the footsteps of his father, a sanitation worker, by getting a stable government job. He became a firefighter and moved to New York City in the early 80’s. Buscemi famously volunteered as a firefighter in the wake of 9/11 and returned to those roots recently, playing a station chief in Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island. On the side of fighting fires, Buscemi took acting classes at the famed Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. Living in the East Village, he naturally fell into the vibrant arts scene, seemingly at odds with the life of a firefighter. Buscemi founded an experimental comedy duo with Mark Boone Jr., ?Steve and Mark.? The pair distributed their poster all over town. And the picture caught the eye of a local artist named Jo Andres.

Steve Buscemi, though generally private, opened up about his life in a rare interview with GQ. Buscemi explains that Jo Andres was living across the street from him in 1983. He had been eyeing her and pretended to bump into her on the street while walking his dog. When she finally realized that Buscemi was the comedian she thought was so cute from the “Steve and Mark” posters, the connection was instantaneous.

Steve Buscemi and Jo Andres

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Jo Andres would soon make a name for herself as a unique choreographer. A modern dancer herself, Andres understood early on that a multi-media approach would draw new audiences to dance. She projected painted slides onto her dancers, with images ranging from abstract to humanoid, as the dancers themselves navigated with props of wispy tulle. The result was a sensory experience of pure mood that seemed to fulfill its title: “Lucid Posession.” According to the New York Times, critics loved her experimental performance art. By the 1990’s both Buscemi and Andres were experiencing professional success.

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Steve Buscemi and Jo Andres were married in 1987. Soon after they had their only child, a son Lucian, and moved from Manhattan to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope where they remained, and where Buscemi still lives, even after Andres’ death in 2019. Their long marriage was happy, and full of support for one another’s exciting careers. Even as Buscemi was cast in more and more projects, requiring him to travel to Los Angeles, he and Andres never spent more than three weeks apart. And he wasn’t the only one entering the film business. Buscemi’s wife moved on from choreography to create art videos and short films. One of these, “Black Kites” featured both her husband and son Lucian. It premiered at the Sundance film festival in 1996 to rave reviews. Watch below.

“Black Kites” by Jo Andres

The Death of Jo Andres

Steve Buscemi has had many near-death experiences. Aside from the dangers of firefighting, Buscemi was hit by a bus as a child (the settlement paid for his Lee Strasberg acting classes), later a car, and was seriously stabbed while out with Vince Vaughn in 2001. To survive these incidents — and go on to become a household name in entertainment — Buscemi considered himself lucky. Until he lost his wife to a long, painful battle with ovarian cancer.

Speaking of the experience to GQ, Steve Buscemi said of her final years, ?The pain was the hardest thing. People who are going through that, it’s painful. It’s painful to die from cancer. There’s just no way around it.? It’s a rough ending to a long relationship that has provided fans with such an extensive artistic output. Buscemi is so alive, so cracklingly funny, and utterly strange in his various roles that it can be easy to forget about the man behind the filmmaker. He’s spent the majority of the Coronavirus pandemic in the residential Park Slope neighborhood, where is he a legendary fixture. Now on his own, Buscemi spends time painting and trying to stay creative inside the brownstone house they once shared.

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Emily Mack About the author:
Emily Mack is a staff writer for Rare. She currently lives in Chicago and has very strong opinions about where to find the best hot dog. She studied nonfiction writing at Columbia University in New York City, and recently graduated with the Ellis Avery Prize for creative writing. Her favorite topics are Cher, fast fashion, Chicago urban legends, and Jack Nicholson movies.
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