The new movie May December, which premiered on Netflix on December 1, has been getting rave reviews and captivating audiences. The film follows the story of actress Elizabeth Berry (played by Natalie Portman), who travels to Georgia to meet with Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore) to prepare for a role based on Gracie’s infamous life—notably that she began her relationship with her husband Joe Yoo (Charles Melton) when he was just 13.
The movie is loosely inspired by the real life of sex offender and former teacher Mary Kay Letourneau, who was found guilty of two counts of second-degree rape of a child in 1997, after having a sexual relationship with her 12-year-old student Vili Fualaau. Her story, including her later marriage to Vili, captivated tabloid readers in the 90s and aughts. Find out more about Mary Kay and her life here.
Mary Kay’s Crime & Arrest
Born Mary Schmitz in 1962, she married Steve Letourneau, who she met at Arizona State University, in 1984. They had four children together, per Parade. During her first marriage, she became a teacher at Shorewood Elementary School in Seattle. In 1991, she began to work closely with her pupil Vili and began teaching him piano. He became her student again when he was in sixth grade. “There was a bonding that was pretty instantaneous. It was the kind of feeling you have with a brother or sister – a feeling that they’re part of your life forever,” she told The Seattle Times in 1997.
During the summer of 1996, their relationship turned sexual. At the time, Mary was 34, and Vili was 12. In June 1996, the two of them were caught by police while in a parked car. Even though Vili lied about his age and they each gave fake names, they were taken in for questioning, but they were released when it was found that they hadn’t had physical contact during that encounter. In February 1997, Steve discovered letters written between Mary and her student, and he reported his wife to the school and Child Protective Services. Mary was arrested in March 1997.
During their affair, Mary became pregnant with Vili’s child, and she was seven months pregnant at the time of her arrest. She was released on bail and gave birth to a daughter in May of that year. That August, she received a suspended seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence. She was ordered to spend only six months in prison, as well as beginning a sex offender treatment program, take medication for bipolar disorder, and cut off contact with Vili, per People.
Mary violated parole in 1998 and saw Vili again. They had sex and she became pregnant with their second daughter, who she gave birth to in prison in October 1998. Mary was ordered to serve her remaining seven years after she was caught.
Mary Kay’s Release From Prison & Marriage to Vili
In August 2004, Mary was released from prison, and registered as a sex offender. After her release, both she and Vili (who was 21 when she was released) filed petitions to have their no-contact orders lifted, and the pair got married in 2005. The two of them opened up about their marriage in a 2006 interview with People. “I think, what would my life have been like if I had never made a move on Mary?” Vili said at the time. “What if I had kept it as a crush and left it at that? Where would I be and where would she be—what would life be like?”
The pair sat down for a 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters in April 2015, after they’d been married for 10 years. In that interview, Mary said that marriage was always on her mind when she started her relationship with Vili. “We’ve always planned that and it hasn’t changed,” she said, via ABC 7 News.
After 12 years of marriage, Vili filed for separation from his former teacher in 2017. They attempted to reconcile, but they later split up again in 2019, filing to divorce each other.
How Did Mary Kay Die?
Mary died in 2020 at 58, following a short battle with stage 4 colon cancer. After her death, Mary’s lawyer Julianna Wong told Hollywood Life exclusively that Vili had been helping her as she battled cancer. “Mary Kay did let me know that Vili was with her in Seattle and had been for several months. And he was supporting her and helping her and caring for her through her illness. It’s my impression that both of them were pretty devoted to one another despite their separation,” she said.
Two years after Mary’s death, their younger daughter announced that Vili had fathered another daughter with a new woman in November 2022.