Mario Lawrence Fusco, a.k.a., Crazy Mario, Daddy, Dad, Grandpa, Pop Pop, Bada Bing, died peacefully surrounded by his loving family on Feb 27th 2020 in Tucson, Az.
Mario was born in NYC, in a third floor tenement apartment on 136th Street, in Manhattan. As the story goes, his Grandmother was the mid wife. Mario grew up in a large family; he was the 5th of nine children.
Mario quickly learned as he grew up on the mean streets of the Bronx he would have to stand up and learn to defend himself. His friends would tell him he was a great street fighter, imagine what he would learn in the gym. Mario said, “So to test myself, I joined the boxing gym. I never left; it was my refuge and my salvation.” And as a result, a passion for boxing was born at the age of 16 years old.
Mario would say, “I would fight and beat the biggest and strongest guys in and out of my neighborhood. My friends would say, “Mario don’t fight him, his too big and his too strong! You’re Crazy … Mario!” from then on, his friends called him “Crazy Mario.”
Another cool fact, the movie “The Bronx Tale” was filmed in Mario’s neighborhood and one of the characters in the movie was named “Crazy Mario.” Mario always thought his childhood nick name was used after him in the movie which tickled him.
Mario was quick to defend and protect his friends if there was anyone giving any of them trouble. He was known to be the protector in the neighborhood and they would all come to him when they needed his help to teach a bully a lesson.
Once Mario entered the gym he never looked back, it kept him driven and in shape for his entire life. Mario trained and sparred with Floyd Patterson in the late 1960’s which was an honor and highlight that he treasured. Mario went on to be a Featherweight Champion.
Mario was a wild and crazy kid who would do anything on a dare, like diving off the City Island Bridge or streaking on Orchard Beach and Jones Beach. Mario would be the first one to get up and dance at a wedding or event to get the party started. He liked to have fun and was always the life of the party! Mario had a sense of style and a big heart and would take the time to share with his younger siblings that style and skills like how to tie a tie. His younger brothers and sister would light up and feel protected when they would see their big brother.
Mario had multiple careers in his lifetime, at a young tender age he was a shoe shiner and sold Christmas trees with his father, then worked at his Uncle Frank’s Vegetable Store in Queens. He changed careers and went to work as a roofer and in construction with his older brother and was part of the crew that built the Unisphere at New York’s World Fair. Then he worked as a Butcher for the A&P for nine years, and after that went on to cut meat part time for a number of years at his favorite eatery Mario’s Restaurant back in the old neighborhood.
Mario also had an entrepreneurial spirit he started his own vegetable stand out of his social club on Mace Ave. After that he started his own Crystal Clean business for many years out of his garage in the early ‘80s. Where he sold cleaning supplies to many of his life long friends and loyal local business owners from the old neighborhood where he grew up on Arthur Ave and 187th street.
Mario met and married the love of his life Diane Irene, they met while hanging out with friends at White Castle on Gun Hill Road. They went on to have three beautiful children together, his loving daughters Elizabeth, lil Diane and his one and only son Luke. They lived on Mace Ave in the Bronx for seventeen years, a piece of property that they all made home together, growing vegetable gardens and raising many different animals: cats, dogs, garter snakes, 12 chickens, 2 parakeets, a hamster, a pet pigeon and a rooster. And we can’t forget having a horse for a day. It was the family’s very own lil farm in the middle of an urban landscape. The importance of family, love, togetherness and working hard was the glue that Mario instilled in his family.
In 1997 he moved to Tucson, Az to be closer to his family who had moved out West in the ‘80s. His children were his pride and joy. Mario cherished his family and enjoyed being close to them all once again. He also enjoyed his loving relationships with his son- in- law Donny and his two darling granddaughters Anaya and Domenica. Italian food was Mario’s favorite and was always on the dinner table at the family’s Sunday dinners.
In his retirement in Tucson, Mario spent his days volunteering and coaching aspiring young boxers in many Gyms and High Schools around town, such as Atzlan Boxing Gym and Rincon High School. Mario would recommend to every young kid he met to join a gym, “it will make you respect and care about your fellow man. You will develop boxing skills that you never knew you have and make you a much better person.”
Mario also competed in the Senior Olympics for 11 years in a row winning countless Gold Medals in his age group each year, in the categories of Chin-ups and long distance swimming competitions. He had two nice write-ups in the Tucson Citizen that he was so very proud of and framed.
Mario had many coffee shops and breakfast joints he went to over the years. But his all time favorite was Frank’s Restaurant on Pima were he had a large group of friends and he would have breakfast with them every chance he would get. Mario knew how to make an entrance and he would walk into Frank’s and the cooks would call out is name “Mario, Mario is here!” as if announcing to all who are in the restaurant he has arrived. Then Mario would dance his way down the aisle of tables to meet up with his friend Nancy where they would hug, then groove to the music together that was blaring on the radio and dance right on down to the groups favorite table.
Mario lived large in every aspect of life and he was not shy he loved meeting new people. The last year of his life he charmed his way into the local Boxing Inc. on Campbell to throw a few punches at the heavy bag and talk boxing with anyone behind the counter or any young boxer hitting the bag. He would start in by throwing out some boxing techniques as if he was their coach. By the end they would know all about him and his boxing career and that he was a kid from the rough streets of the Bronx. They referred to him as “Mario from the Bronx!”
Mario had a long battle with kidney disease but the last 4 years he chose to manage his illness his way. He would say, I don’t want to spend my days around dialysis machines and people in white medical uniforms. I want to do it “My Way, I want to go out and have fun, meet people, go to Frank’s Restaurant, have breakfast with my friends, be happy and be with my family. Mario’s last fight was a round in the ring up against end stage kidney failure; he fought hard and gave it all he had. He was strong and brave and did it his way!
The year 2017 was a divesting year for Mario and exceptionally hard for him by the tragic loss of his beloved son, Luke.
Mario is survived by his loving daughters, Elizabeth, lil Diane, the Mother of his children Diane Irene, son-in-law Donny, granddaughters Anaya and Domenica, his younger sister Linda, his two brothers Carlo and Joey.
Mario’s family is at peace with an 85-year-old life well-lived filled with fun, food, love, family and friends. Mario’s gift for meeting people, enjoying the simplest part of the day and a good ole breakfast with his cronies will always be tenderly remembered.
Mario was a legend on the streets of the Bronx and Tucson…
now he is; “A legend in Heaven.”
Due to Covid-19 pandemic a celebration of Mario’s life has been postponed till an unforeseen future. But if the family can make a call to action and on a collective scale we all celebrate and honor Mario in our own individual way to remember a humble loving life. The family would be honored by your kindness and thoughtfulness in doing so. If it is listening to Frank Santana song “My Way”, lighting a candle, having a spaghetti and meatball dinner, watching the movie like A Bronx Tale or Goodfellas, sending a story about him to the family that you would like to share with them, or looking up at the Crescent Moon which was is favorite. In any beautiful way you find it in your hearts to remember Mario, the family would be forever grateful. Thank you all in advance in taking a part of honoring Mario’s life.