"Twenty years," said Jeff Stone, standing at the door of his home in Clackamas, Ore. "Is that what it is?"
He didn't seem surprised in the least that a reporter had shown up on his doorstep. I'm sure he'd gotten used to it, back when his name was Jeff Gillooly. Twenty years and a mustache ago, Gillooly masterminded the hit on Nancy Kerrigan's knee on the eve of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Certain details still linger in the memory. On January 6, 1994, a man named Shane Stant delivered the blow itself—a single strike on the right knee with a police baton—and then fled the scene in such a panic that he ran right through a plexiglass door. Cameras captured the aftermath of the attack, with Kerrigan bellowing on the ground: "Why? Why? Why?"
The surreal quickly became the sensational. Implicated in the attack were Kerrigan's rival, Tonya Harding; her ex-husband, Gillooly, and Gillooly's band of hired goons—Stant, bodyguard Shawn Eckardt, and getaway driver Derrick Smith. Harding initially denied everything, while Gillooly, charged with conspiracy to commit assault, later pleaded down to one count of racketeering. Awkwardly, both Harding and Kerrigan competed in the '94 Lillehammer Olympics. Harding finished eighth, and Kerrigan won the silver. A few months later, Gillooly and his associates went to prison while Harding got probation for conspiring to hinder their prosecution. (She maintains to this day that she knew nothing of the attack in advance.)
This winter, in the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, both ESPN and NBC will broadcast competing documentaries about the two figure skaters. The Price of Gold, an ESPN 30 for 30 doc, was originally set to air November 5, but was pushed to January 16. Kerrigan committed exclusively to the NBC production which will air during the Olympics, while Harding sat for both. But Gillooly/Stone did not participate in either one. Apparently, he wasn't even asked.
Gillooly changed his name to Stone after his 1995 release from prison. His surname was infamous at that point. It had become a verb, a part of the cultural lexicon. There followed a series of legal complications—a restraining order filed by his ex-wife; a restraining order filed against his ex-wife; arrests on charges of assault, DUI, and driving with a suspended license, according to court records. His woes weren't all criminal: He has declared bankruptcy, been sued nearly a dozen times, and is currently on his third marriage, to Christy Novasio, with whom he's been in a relationship for 11 years. His ex-wife, Nancy Sharkey, was a drug addict who committed suicide in 2005 by jumping headlong from a third-floor fire escape at a Memphis rehab clinic. Her mother filed a $7 million wrongful death lawsuit against Foundations Associates, settling for $325,000. Most of that went to the couple's two children, Haley and Noah Stone, who reside with Stone and Christy in Clackamas, less than two miles from the rink where Stone used to accompany Harding. It was here, in this community, that he first hatched the idea of attacking Kerrigan. It was here, a few years ago, that he ran into Harding at a fast-food restaurant.
In late October, I rang the doorbell of Stone's modest home, which was decorated with pumpkins and orange lights. He answered, smiling. He was dressed in a lime-green button-down shirt, a black fleece jacket and jeans. His hair was mostly gray, and he wore glasses. The famous mustache, a small woodland creature that had taken up residence above his lip, was no more. He'd shaved it off before he went to prison.
Stone was polite and friendly; the only trace of the old Gillooly was the Midwestern lilt that you sometimes find in people from the Pacific Northwest. He's a used-car salesman, but he was uncomfortable telling me much more about his current life. He said he couldn't talk to me just then, at his house, but he would call me the following morning, between 10 and 11 a.m. He gave me his cell phone number, but I wanted reassurance, fearing he'd blow off the phone call and, well, Gillooly my story. He told me, without any irony, "If I say something, I'm going to do it."
The next morning Stone called at 10:48 a.m. He spent 20 minutes talking about his past, his missteps, his growth, his children, and, of course, Harding and Kerrigan. He was open and perfectly pleasant, laughing and addressing me by my first name.
Stone began our conversation by explaining that he didn't feel comfortable meeting in person.
AKN: Would you consider allowing me into your world a bit, so I can better understand what your current life is like?
JS: I've had lots [of interviews] and I've spoke to a few people here and there over the years and I've never had a good experience with it. I'd be happy to honestly answer any questions for you but other than that… I've never been particularly troubled by anything Tonya says or the media says or how I'm made out to be. I dealt with that, well, almost 20 years ago. [Laughs.] It's kind of ancient history. So go ahead, you're free to ask me anything you'd like.
AKN: What is your life like now?
JS: The most common question I'm ever asked, if it comes up, "Do you regret what you did?" I guess that's kind of a yes-and-a-no question. Yes, it was pretty darn stupid. It was pretty ridiculous. But in the same instance, I'm a big believer in how you lay out your life and how each step you take, each opportunity you use—whether for good or for bad—kind of leads you down the road. I'm real happy with my life, I'm real happy with the way it's turned out. I've got two beautiful kids with my ex-wife and I've got a lot of good friends. What's there to regret? Not much.
The other one is, "What do your kids think about this?" There are two things that have come up with my kids. The first one, when Haley was very young, and we were at a PTA meeting and a gal came up to me and said, "Are you Jeff?" and I said, "Yeah, I'm Jeff." And she said, "Are you Jeff Gillooly?" And I said, "Yep, yeah, I'm Jeff Gillooly." And she said, "I don't mean to be rude. But does that embarrass you?" "No, it doesn't embarrass me." And then she finally came up with the question she wanted to ask me and she said, "What if your daughter wants to be a figure skater?" And I told her, "Well, I guess I'll make sure she wins." That's the only time I've had a Being Jeff Gillooly [moment].
Then my daughter in high school, there was a question for extra credit that was, "Back in '94, who was Tonya Harding's husband?" And she raised her hand and said, "Jeff Gillooly." And the big bonus question: "What did he change his name to?" And she said, "Stone." And [the teacher] said, "How do you know that?" And she said, "Because it's my dad."
That was kind of funny.
Stone declined to have any of his relatives interviewed. His anecdotes are his alone; I did not confirm them through anyone else.
AKN: How did that make you feel when you heard your daughter was in that position?
JS: They've known all about my history since they were little, little, little. If I've done [nothing] else, it's teach them a lesson of what not to do in life. I've got a little bit more experience than most dads, or at least much more publicly. I've never had an issue with anybody ever since I've came out of prison. People kind of know I took responsibility for what I did. It was absolutely wrong, I shouldn't have done it, and I paid the price, and I went on with my life, which is what you're supposed to do. [Pause.] I've been married three times and my first marriage of course was to Tonya, and I had a second marriage to my kids' mother, and her name was Nancy. I imagine this is going to come up: We divorced in about 2000, and she developed a pretty serious drug habit, and that's when I took the kids. I've raised the kids since they were 3 and 5, and then she committed suicide in 2005. So if there's a question, yes, she did. And I've been with the same gal, we just had our 11-year anniversary on September 21. We were together 10 years and then we got married in Mexico on our 10th anniversary.
Stone understands the game, knowing full well that I'd probably pull court records and discover that his ex-wife had died. (In fact, I'd done it the day before.) Court records show that in 2002, Nancy Sharkey filed papers saying Stone had been delinquent in paying two years' worth of child support. While I couldn't find a court record giving Stone full custody, he says he's had the children since 2003, and court records documenting his ex-wife's struggles with drug addiction during that time align with Stone's version.
AKN: I'm sorry to hear about your ex-wife.
JS: It was sudden. They were very little—5 and 7 [years old]. I have issues like any other person. The trick is, I think I've had it easy, compared to poor Tonya because she's never admitted to her involvement in it and I think people know that, and they always kind of make fun of her. And she does these interviews, and she tends to be the butt of the joke. It's kind of sad to me.
There never was any solid evidence that Harding knew about the attack—at least, no such evidence was made public. But in an interview this September with the Daily Mail, Kerrigan said that the FBI had told her, "We can't give you hard proof, but we do this for a living, and we are convinced Harding knew."
AKN: It seems, all these years later, that is the one fact that remains disputed. You've consistently maintained that she knew.
JS: Of course she did. I think most people know that she did. She's a very unhappy person, from what I can tell. I don't know. I haven't talked to her in 20 years but I occasionally see her on television and I kind of see—I've read some stories in the paper about what her personal life has become and the trouble she's got there, and it's just sad to me. And that's probably, if I had one real regret, we rode her career. We absolutely rode her career. She was the best figure skater—women's figure skater—that ever lived. Still is, in my opinion. We decided to do something really stupid there, and it ruined her. She'll never be remembered for how wonderful a figure skater she was. She'll be remembered for what I talked her into doing.
AKN: What do you think of Nancy Kerrigan?
JS: Back then I kind of knew of her. I tease with my friends: "Ohhh, I don't watch figure skating anymore. It makes me angry. It makes me want to hit someone in the knee," is the running joke. I don't know Nancy Kerrigan. I knew her a little bit then, but I don't know what's going on with her life except that unfortunate incident with her brother and her father.
I hope she's doing well. I'm sure she is. I guess that's all I have to say about that. I don't really have an opinion either way.
AKN: Did you ever apologize to her, or have a desire to?
JS: I don't know if it ever came out. I did one big interview about it all. I believe I covered that. I don't remember because I didn't watch myself on television afterward. But absolutely. I would hope that she would accept my apology on that. I wouldn't count on it. To hurt somebody like that or have somebody hurt like that, it's just not right.
When I began thinking about this story, I decided to do a Twitter search for "Jeff Gillooly." I was somewhat surprised to see his former name referenced on a near-daily basis. All these years later, the name still remains a part of pop culture, a bit of a relic, but not so dated that people don't get the joke.
AKN: What do you think about your former name still being a part of pop culture, that it's an actual verb?
JS: I think it's funny. My mom didn't think it was funny. She passed recently. [Eventually] she would enjoy it a little bit more. I've always kind of thought that was funny. I've seen it on the Family Guy, and the best one I ever saw was David Letterman's Top Ten list. Even The Far Side did one as Gillooly's Island, which portrayed me as Gilligan and had me going up to Mary Ann and saying ,"Here Mary Ann I'm going to hit Ginger with this pipe and you can be the movie star." I think it's funny. It's interesting how much that story has become part of pop culture. I don't take any of that stuff too seriously. It's not offensive to me. I kind of did this to myself, right?
I was curious how accurate his memory was when it came to the pop-culture references. The Family Guy reference came in a 2005 episode; it was an intentionally dated joke about using Gillooly to hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
Letterman's "Top Ten Ways to Mispronounce Jeff Gillooly" aired on Feb. 2, 1994; No. 1 was "Guilty." The Far Side cartoon could not be located. Even Seinfeld got in a dig, in an episode that aired May 11, 1995. And if you have a Hulu account, you can watch Rob Schneider open the Feb. 9, 1994, episode of Saturday Night Live with "A Message From Jeff Gillooly."
AKN: Will you ever change your name back to Gillooly?
JS: People have asked me if I [originally] changed my name because of that stuff. I didn't change my name because of that stuff. My mom was upset. But I never liked the last name Gillooly. Nobody can say it. Nobody can pronounce it. I didn't care for it. I had always kind of planned on changing my last name. But, did that influence it? You bet it did. Because I thought I [would get] a little bit of privacy. … When I decided to change my name it came out in the paper with three-inch headlines and certain people objected to me changing my name and so on and so on. It kind of was something I always planned on doing, and I would never consider changing it back. I am a Gillooly. I'm part of my family, but I don't have to have the same last name. So, no, I wouldn't. My kids are Stone.
He's right about pissing off people with the name change—chief among them his fellow Jeff Stones. "Here's a guy who's a known felon," Jeff Stone, mayor of Temecula, Calif., told Sports Illustrated in 1995. "He shouldn't be able to hide behind someone else's name." Jeff Stone, a former Phillies outfielder, told the magazine, "If he was going to change his name, he should've changed his face too, because people are going to recognize him."
What's strange is that anonymity doesn't seem all that important to him. Why else live in the heart of where all that tawdry dysfunction was born 20 years ago, the one place in the world where he couldn't escape with just a simple name change? This is where he and Harding grew up, where many of his high school classmates still live.
AKN: Did you do it for your kids' benefit?
JS: I'm the youngest of six kids, all three of my older brothers have [the last name] Gillooly and their kids have Gillooly, and I don't think it's ever been an issue for them. I don't think, anymore, most people even remember it to tell you the truth, Amy. People remember it, they remember the name but they don't associate when they see me in the street. They don't say, "Hey, there's Jeff Gillooly."
AKN: Are you ever recognized?
JS: I used to be, years ago. I don't get recognized much anymore. Occasionally, occasionally somebody will come up to me who maybe had met me years ago.
On his doorstep the night before our phone interview, Stone had told me he'd seen Harding only once in the past 20 years. It was at a local fast-food place. He couldn't remember which one. He couldn't remember how many years ago, either, but he figured it was within the past decade, maybe a bit more recently.
AKN: Did she recognize you?
JS: She did. She was walking back, and I knew somebody was looking at me, and so that gets uncomfortable. I realized it was her. She doesn't look like a very happy person, and the last thing I needed was to make a scene and say something to her. I don't wish her any ill will, either. But I certainly don't want to have a scene made.
AKN: How often do you think of 1994?
JS: '94? Well, I guess I think about it a lot. That whole thing [had] become a public hoo-ha. I was a very shy and introverted person back then, believe it or not. And when that whole thing came and I became the most hated man in America, I kind of had to start to make peace with myself and come to grips with who I was in life. The whole experience, even as bad as it was and going to prison and living that, it was a good life lesson for me, I think. And I think I'm grateful for having experienced something like that. Not many people can say that they have experienced that kind of, well for one thing, public embarrassment, and to have people looking into your life was interesting, and I've become grateful for that. I'm a much more assertive person and I'm much more at ease with myself than I was back then.
AKN: Since '94, you've gotten into quite a bit of legal trouble, including violence. What do think about the people who still will view you as a bad guy, a guy who will never change, some who many think—
JS: That I'm an asshole? You know, you've got to take that stuff with a grain of salt. I've had my own troubles and trials and tribulations not like everybody, but like most people. My mom used to say, "Men don't grow up until they're in their 40s." And I think she was pretty much right. I just now feel that I've kind of got a grip on what I'm really doing. I've always been able to make a living but I've never felt grown up until the last few years.
Among the troubles he mentioned was his fraught relationship with Harding. In 1991, Harding filed a restraining order against him, though she would later tell the FBI he had never abused her. They got a divorce in 1993, reconciled a few months later, then separated again shortly after the attack on Kerrigan.
Just a few weeks before Gillooly was sentenced to two years in federal prison and fined $100,000 by Judge Donald Londer (who denied prosecutors' request for a one-year sentence and admonished Gillooly in court, saying, "You are a prime example of how ruthless ambition and raw greed can disrupt, degrade and disfigure a sport of grace even to the height of the Olympics.") both he and Harding sold a sex tape and stills from it to Penthouse magazine. Stone, who was widely thought to have sold the video on his own, confirmed for me that he and Harding were in on the deal together. They split the proceeds—$200,000 apiece, plus royalties, according to this document. In 2008, Harding wrote a book alleging that he and two friends had kidnapped and raped her in the Oregon woods.
AKN: She wrote you raped and kidnapped her.
JS: I forgot about that. I think I kind of laughed about it. I think most people did, to tell you the truth.
Stone then mentioned a "nice fella," a former prosecutor named Norm Frink. He cited a quote he attributed to Frink, something about Harding being "a fantastic storyteller."
JS: That's all it is. It's a big story, and obviously her accusations didn't carry much weight with any type of authority.
AKN: I know you're uncomfortable with allowing me any access to your life, and I understand that, but I have no idea about what you do. I want to be fair, and any help in speaking with your wife or family and friends would only help that.
JS: Amy, I really appreciate that, and I'm sure you have all the best intentions. In reality, none of that stuff is important to me, people seeing me in a fair light. I told you last night, you caught me by surprise; we had just moved in there, and I thought you were one of the neighbors coming up to say hello, to tell you the truth. I wanted to follow up with you like I said I would. Had I known you were coming—and I'll say this to the next reporter, because you say there's gonna be more—I would have told you, "I just don't do interviews. And thank you for giving me the opportunity, but I don't." Feel free to write whatever you'd like. It's not going to affect me one way or the other. But I'm sure your heart is in the right place, Amy, and I do appreciate that. What I will do is I'll talk to my wife, Christy. She's out of town right now—she's a nurse and she's working in Seattle— but I'll talk to her and have her call you if she'd like to. I think she's done [an interview] once before, but it was taken out of context.
I never heard from Christy. As we were wrapping up our conversation, Stone made another offer.
JS: And Amy, if you have any other questions that come up you want to ask, feel free to give me a call, OK?
After a few text messages and phone calls, Stone got back to me Thursday morning. I had a few additional questions, but he demurred.
"Like I said before, there really is no benefit for me to participate in these interviews," he texted. "I resigned myself from those a long time ago. You seem very nice but I'm just not interested nor do I care how I'm portrayed. Thank you for the opportunity and I wish you luck with your endeavor!"
He did answer one follow-up, however. I'd asked him if he planned on watching either of the documentaries.
"I guess," he said, "it depends on what else is on."
Amy K. Nelson is a freelance multimedia journalist based in New York City.
Art by Sam Woolley. Source photo via Facebook.