Tragic Details About The Cake Boss Buddy Valastro

Buddy Valastro ascended to his position as a leading celebrity chef through frequent TV appearances, breaking out on "Food Network Challenge" before starring in "Cake Boss" on TLC. Since then, he's become a fixture of reality TV, working on shows like "Family Feud," "Good Morning America," "Impractical Jokers," and plenty more.

In certain ways, Valastro has seemed to live a model celebrity lifestyle for much of his time in the spotlight. For instance, in 2015 he received the Saint Rocco Italian American Society's Man of the Year award for his work with charities including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, and his own foundation for ALS research. He's also maintained what appears to be an idyllic marriage to his wife Lisa Valastro since 2001.

Of course, like pretty much everyone who has ever reached a certain level of national fame, Valastro has run into a fair number of hardships and setbacks, both before and since his ascent into the public eye. Here are the most notable tragic details about his life, from personal struggles to unfortunate events wholly outside of his control.

He severely injured his hand in a freak accident

One of the defining setbacks of Buddy Valastro's professional life occurred in September 2020. Around that time, the Cake Boss shared a photo of himself in a hospital bed with a heavily bandaged forearm. People then published a piece revealing that Valastro's hospital stay was the result of an injury he sustained in a freak accident in his home bowling alley.

"There was a malfunction with the bowling pinsetter, a common fix in the past, but it turned into a terrible accident," a representative for Valastro told People. "After trying to release the bowling pin from the cage mechanism, his right hand became lodged and compressed inside the unit."

The pinsetter machine fully impaled his hand with a metal rod three times. He was only able to free himself once his teenage sons cut through that metal rod with an electric saw. Soon after a surgeon removed the rod from his hand, he had to undergo a second surgery, recommended by a doctor Valastro's family contacted directly. The Cake Boss could have lost the use of his hand entirely were it not for that surgery's success.

Recovering from his hand injury took years

While two surgeries in the immediate wake of his accident may have saved Buddy Valastro's ability to use his hand in the future, those were merely the start of a long and arduous recovery. By the end of 2023, more than three years after the injury, the Cake Boss had undergone five hand surgeries in total. After those five surgeries, he estimated that he had regained 95% of his ability to move his hand. Even then, it took one more surgery to get him back to more or less full-hand mobility.

That said, Valastro returned to work before his hand was back at full capacity. In 2021, notably, he filmed Season 3 of "Buddy vs. Duff," the cake-baking reality competition show he co-hosts with Charm City Cakes founder Duff Goldman. "We have done some of the best cakes we have ever did," he told Entertainment Tonight after filming. "So thank god that we did and thank god for my surgeons."

He lost his father at a young age

The inciting incident behind Buddy Valastro's ascent in the culinary industry was having to help run his family's business, Carlo's Bakery, starting at just 17 years old. His father Bartolo Valastro Sr. — Bartolo is the name on Buddy's birth certificate — had owned the bakery since 1964, but his death in 1994 required surviving family members to step up in his place. He died of lung cancer at 54 years old, three months after receiving his diagnosis.

Valastro Sr. grew up in Italy before moving to the United States when he was 13. He wound up working at Carlo's Bakery soon after arriving in the U.S. Baking was already part of the Valastro family's DNA by then, and his father was the one who encouraged Valastro Sr. to continue the family legacy by landing a baking job. He ended up purchasing the business after a number of years as a Carlo's Bakery employee.

Of course, Carlo's Bakery became foundational to the younger Buddy Valastro's success, so he has Valastro Sr. to thank in part for his present-day career. "You're in my thoughts everyday and that's how it will always be," he wrote in an Instagram post commemorating his late father's birthday in 2022. "You're up in heaven now but you'll always be with me."

He had to drop out of high school to take over the family business

Understandably, running a bakery at just 17 years old in the immediate wake of his father's death wasn't easy for Buddy Valastro. Rising to that difficult task meant dropping out of high school so he could dedicate himself to Carlo's Bakery full-time.

Valastro's father had him working at Carlo's Bakery when he was just 11. While at that point he was merely on cleaning duty, he started decorating cakes when he was still just 15 years old. Two years later, Valastro's responsibilities multiplied once his father was no longer at the bakery's helm. At 17, Valastro started working 18-hour days, six days a week, hence dropping out of high school to accommodate the workload. "One day I made a decision," he told CNBC. "No matter what, we are not going to fail. I don't care how hard I have to work, I'll be the first one in every morning, I'll be the last to leave."

It took three years after he dropped out of high school to overcome various difficulties, such as competing bakeries and employees worried about losing their jobs, before he felt he had a handle on his new leadership position.

His mother died of ALS in 2017

"Cake Boss" fans are well aware of the impact Buddy Valastro's mother Mary had on the show during its early run. In a Season 5 episode that first aired on July 23, 2012, Valastro and his mother revealed her ALS diagnosis to the show's audience for the first time. She eventually died of ALS in June of 2017.

Valastro told People that the final two years of his mother's life were particularly difficult, because of how severely ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig's disease — had altered her personality. "It was a mixture of sadness and relief because she wasn't really living at the time. This disease is horrible and it takes a toll on you, and she wasn't that firecracker she always was," he said. "I don't want to remember how she was during the last two years of her life, because that wasn't her."

In commemoration of his mother and the sizable impact she had on the family business, Valastro temporarily closed every Carlo's Bakery location on June 27, 2017, before reopening them the next day.

He was arrested for driving while intoxicated in 2014

While Buddy Valastro's career is defined at least in part by charitable acts, hard work, and his dedication to his family, he hasn't quite made it through scandal-free. Among the defining mistakes of his career is an arrest for driving while intoxicated in 2014. Fortunately, Valastro was pulled over in this instance for driving erratically and not for causing anybody physical harm.

One notable detail about the case that made headlines was the fact that, according to the prosecution in court, Valastro told the cops who pulled him over, "You can't arrest me! I'm the Cake Boss."

Once the case went public, Valastro's tone shifted — he publicly admitted to drinking three glasses of wine before driving that night and pled guilty to driving while intoxicated. Then, after leaving court, he apologized for his actions and asserted his belief that driving after drinking alcohol is wrong no matter the circumstances.

He once ended up in the hospital after a stress-induced panic attack

Buddy Valastro may have become accustomed to running Carlo's Bakery around the time he was 20 years old, but that didn't mean the stress of his leadership position suddenly went away. When he was 27, Valastro experienced his first panic attack, and it was so severe he had to check into an emergency room. Most likely contributing to that panic attack was the fact that, before he started filming "Cake Boss," Valastro worked through weekends and holidays, and his workdays lasted considerably longer than 8 hours.

Valastro publicly discusses his experience with panic attacks in Episode 6 of his show "Bakery Boss" — a "Cake Boss" spin-off in which he attempts to aid financially struggling, family-run bakeries. In this episode, the owner of a bakery called Lidia's Bake Shop & Cafe experiences a panic attack while hurriedly trying to bake a batch of cupcakes. Valastro is able to empathize with her based on his personal experience. His hospitalization, of course, was well in his past by the time of this episode's filming, so he had developed personal strategies for mitigating his own stress, allowing him to guide Lidia through her on-camera struggles.

The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on both his personal life and business

Virtually nobody had it easy during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Buddy Valastro is among the many who experienced hardship in their personal lives during that time. Valastro's traumatic hand injury occurred in September of 2020, while COVID-19 was still very much a public concern, worsening what was likely already a tough time adapting to pandemic conditions. "After COVID, I was just home — doom and gloom — and eating. I mean ... COVID was just miserable in that way," he told People.

That eating habit led to him nearly matching the heaviest he had ever weighed in his life by March of 2022. While gaining weight isn't inherently a bad thing, Valastro attributed this to treating food as a comfort for his pandemic struggles, and he decided he wanted to make a change. Over the next year or so, he lost approximately 40 pounds.

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic also affected business at Carlo's Bakery. In November 2020, he estimated that sales were around 40% of what they should have been if it were a more typical year. While he was able to successfully retool his diet, Carlo's Bakery's struggles persisted, culminating in multiple closures over tfuhe following few years.

He's had to close a number of Carlo's Bakery locations

A years-long string of Carlo's Bakery locations closing technically kicked off prior to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. In mid-2018, for example, Buddy Valastro had to close locations in the New Jersey cities of Westfield and Red Bank. The following year he had to shut down additional New Jersey shops in the cities Ridgewood and Morristown.

Following the start of the pandemic in early 2020, a Dallas location shuttered that December (on the heels of a smaller mall kiosk in the nearby city of Frisco closing about a year prior). Then, around the end of 2023, Carlo's Bakery closures affected locations in both Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Santa Monica, California — though Carlo's Bakery remained in Santa Monica utilizing an online-only model.

There are now 10 Carlo's Bakeries remaining — compared to 28 branded cake vending machines, more than half of which are in Las Vegas. Taking into account the pivot in Santa Monica to online ordering and the prevalence of those vending machines, it seems like the Carlo's Bakery brand may not necessarily be weakening, but simply transitioning away from a storefront-based model.