With the big-screen hit I, Tonya (2017) earning acclaim and an array of Academy Award nominations, the strange saga of Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding is back on everyone’s mind. And on Saturday, February 3 at 8/7c, Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story premieres on Investigation Discovery! The two-hour special will then be available to stream on ID GO for one week.
Harding, of course, is best remembered for the January 6, 1994, incident in which her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and his coconspirator Shawn Eckardt masterminded an assault on Tonya’s rival skater, Nancy Kerrigan.
At the Cobo Arena in Detroit, hired goon Shane Stant bludgeoned Kerrigan in the leg with a police baton, prompting her to wail on a video replayed all over the planet: “Why? Why? Why me? Why?”
All the while, Harding maintained she had no knowledge of the plot. Kerrigan recovered, and both women competed in the Lillehammer Winter Olympics. Harding broke a lace mid-routine and tearfully pleaded with the judges to be allowed to start over — thereby launching another proto-viral-video.
Kerrigan came away with a Silver Medal. Harding won nothing. She subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution of Gillooly, Eckardt, and Stant. As a result, Harding got fined $100,000, sentenced to three years probation, and “banned for life” by the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
From there, Tonya Harding took off on a crackpot journey through the underbelly of pop culture that, unexpectedly, resulted in a critically praised biopic and a potential bounty of Oscar gold. Here are five other odd milestones Tonya Harding hit along the way.
1. TONYA & JEFF’S WEDDING NIGHT (1994): THE SEX TAPE
Before Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee pioneered the celebrity sex tape phenomenon that later made superstars of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly broke similar ground on the level that would go on to produce homemade porn videos from the likes of Dustin Diamond, Amy Fisher, and the guy who played Mini-Me.
Penthouse reportedly paid Gillooly $400,000 for a recording of him having sex with Harding while she wore a wedding dress. The magazine published still images from the tape and later marketed it on VHS and DVD. Few recall it as a classic. [Daily Beast]
2. BREAKAWAY (1996): TONYA’S B-MOVIE ACTION DEBUT
Going the route of Anna Nicole Smith and other unlikely action movie heroines, in 1996 Tonya Harding starred in the low-budget thriller Breakaway.
Acting opposite B-flick mainstay Joe Estevez, Harding plays a “feisty waitress” who comes across $1 million in cash and jets off to Tahiti — unaware that mobsters will be hunting her down to get it back.
Producer Eric Gardner said Harding was easy to work with, but he had to read her lines to her off-camera, which she would then just repeat while being filmed. Gardner did also pointedly note: “She had no trouble with the fight scenes.” [Los Angeles Times]
3. NO YEN FOR PRO WRESTLING: TONYA TURNS DOWN $2 MILLION TO GRAPPLE IN JAPAN
While Harding scrambled to pay off her $100,000 fine, the All Japan Women’s Professional Wrestling Association (AJWPWA) made her an offer many would find hard to refuse: $2 million to enter the squared circle in the Land of the Rising Sun.
AJWPWA chairman Takashi Matsunga campaigned to sign Harding, stating:
“Tonya was made to be a pro wrestler. She’s about as tough as they come and she’ll last a lot longer in our sport than she will in figure skating … Of course, she’d have to be the bad guy at first, but I think she can learn to be a heroine as well.”
Somehow, Harding passed on Matsunga’s proposition, but reportedly accepted a mere $5,000 to act as a spokeswoman for a local pro wrestling event in Portland. [Desert News]
One February 3, 2000, police in Camas, Washington, arrested Tonya Harding for allegedly flying into a drunken rage and pummeling her boyfriend’s face with a metal hubcap. Darren Silver, 28, also claimed Harding repeatedly beat him with her fists — “hooking me like Mike Tyson” — and kneed him in the groin.
The couple reportedly argued after a night out playing video poker and hitting the booze (responders said they were both intoxicated). Upon arriving home, three witnesses said Tonya turned violent within reach of the fateful tire ornament. Police charged her with misdemeanor domestic violence, ultimately resulting in a three-day jail sentence and 10 days of community service. [Washington Post]
5. TONYA DUKES IT OUT WITH PAULA JONES ON CELEBRITY BOXING (2002)
In the first of two Celebrity Boxing TV specials aired on Fox, Tonya Harding squared off in the ring against Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state worker who famously sued President Bill Clinton for sexual harassment.
Also on the card that night: Danny Bonaduce vs. Barry Williams, and Todd Bridges vs. Vanilla Ice.
Harding handily defeated Jones and actually went on to a six-bout professional boxing career of some note over the next two years. She won three matches and lost three before retiring over concerns about her asthma. [ESPN]
Recommended For You:
Main photo: Tonya Harding/YouTube video [screenshot]