Mary Kay Letourneau—who gained tabloid infamy for raping her 12-year-old former student, having children with him, and later marrying him—has died of cancer, her attorneys said.
The 58-year-old split from husband Vili Fualaau, now 36, more than a year ago. It was not publicly known that she was ill.
“Expected but sad anyway,” her attorney David Gehrke, told TV station KOMO. “She was a good person.”
Letourneau was a married mom of four working as a sixth-grade teacher in Washington state in 1997 when she was arrested for sexual contact with Fualaau. The case made headlines around the globe and turned her into a national punchline.
She gave birth to their first child shortly before being sentenced to six months as part of a plea deal. Weeks after her release, she was caught with Fualaau in violation of that agreement and tossed back in prison for seven years. She gave birth to their second child, another girl, behind bars.
The two began a legal romance after she was released, and they married in 2005—even though Fualaau had unsuccessfully sued the school for failing to protect him from her.
“She got out of prison and I asked her to marry me right away,” Fualaau told A&E for a special in 2018. “I knew that my kids would have both their parents in a house and that was something I didn’t have, and I wanted them to have that experience.”
She maintained that she didn’t know that having sex with a boy was illegal.
“If someone had told me, if anyone had told me, there is a specific law that says this is a crime,” she told Australian TV in 2018. “I did not know. I’ve said this over and over again. Had I known, if anyone knows my personality. Just the idea, this would count as a crime.”
The scandalous union hit the rocks in 2017 and they formally separated in February 2019. People magazine said Letourneau struggled after the breakup.
“She’s trying to pick up the pieces and move on, but she’s feeling kind of lost,” a source told the magazine in March. “She’s not sure what to do next.”