March 9th, 2005 Becky Ohlsen, Aaron Scott, John Buffaloe | Special Section Stories
 

1994

     
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The Ice Queen

BY BECKY OHLSEN

You couldn't make this stuff up. Clackamas trailer-park queen hits the big time as an Olympic figure skater, gets involved in a nefarious knee-thwacking, is drummed out of the sport, appears naked in Penthouse, then beefs up to become an amateur boxer.

Tonya Harding probably would've gone down in history as redneck royalty even without all the sordid details. After all, how often does a local girl who started fixing cars at the age of 5 become a princess of the ice rink?

Her childhood was unstable at best. The daughter of a waitress and a former truck driver, she grew up in a succession of scruffy addresses on the outskirts of Portland. She practiced skating at the Clackamas Town Center, a shopping mall where she also worked after school. She dropped out of school in her sophomore year. She and her mother, LaVona Golden, used to sew her skating costumes to save money.

By the time she was 23, the girl from the sticks had done a swift triple-axel to the top of the women's figure-skating ranks. Then, on Jan. 6, 1994, at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, came the crack heard round the world. Olympic Gold-medal favorite Nancy Kerrigan was talking with reporters when suddenly, an unidentified man came rushing at her and whacked her just above the right knee with a telescopic billy club. The attacker then fled, busting through a plexiglass door panel with his head.

The bizarre assault started tongues wagging across the globe-including that of Harding's bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt, a doughy, small-faced "security consultant" with a penchant for trenchcoats. After one long day of silence, Eckardt let the cat out, bragging to a classmate in his legal-procedures course and reportedly playing an audiotape of the attack being planned. (Fledgling criminals, take note.) Within weeks, Eckardt was in the clink, as was Jeff Gillooly, Harding's husband. The ice queen denied all involvement in the attack and threatened to sue if she didn't make the Olympic team.

Harding stayed in the clear until the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, where she placed a disappointing eighth in the women's technical program, watched by 47 million households. Afterwards, she came back to Portland and pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution. She was fined and sentenced to community service. The U.S. Figure Skating Association banned her for life.

As the drama unfolded, Tonya became an instant celebrity, her white-trash upbringing and boob job splashed across the tabloids. Gillooly, who changed his name to Jeff Stone in an effort to escape his own reputation, did his part by selling the couple's wedding-night video to Penthouse. Needless to say, they split up.

The next few years were not kind to Tonya. In 1996 she told police she had been abducted at knifepoint by a bushy-haired stranger, who was never found. In 2000, there was a bit of trouble surrounding allegations that she beat her boyfriend, Darren Silver, with a hubcap. In 2002, she was evicted from her house when she fell behind on her rent. Later that year, she spent 10 days in jail after plowing her truck into a ditch in a drunken stupor. Then she was busted nipping vodka on an airplane, despite her parole stipulating that she not drink alcohol for two years.

Ever the bulldog, Harding refused to abandon skating. At press time she was seeking reinstatement in the U.S. Figure Skating Association. But she's also begun to branch out. Inspired by those buff biceps of hers, the producers of TV's Celebrity Boxing set Harding, now 33, against self-proclaimed Clinton paramour Paula Jones; Harding won. Things didn't go as well in a February 2003 bout in Memphis, Tenn., where Harding lost a four-round majority decision to Samantha Browning.

Odds are, she won't give up. She's scrappy, our Tonya. Maybe that's what we love about her. She's brash, she's trashy, she's boozy. She's got no future in crime or diplomacy. The ferocity with which she keeps her eyes on the prize-much like her skating style-is anything but ladylike. But she's real, she's ours, and she's sure got guts.

Shaken, Not Stirred

BY AARON SCOTT

If the city of Portland were a talk show, Pink Martini would be the house band and Thomas Lauderdale, with his pinstripe slacks and black-rimmed glasses, the eccentric bandleader.

Equal parts pianist and political activist (he worked on campaigns for Mayor Bud Clark and Gov. Neil Goldschmidt), Lauderdale formed Pink Martini in 1994-when Oregon was still licking its wounds from Measure 9-as a way to break down musical and social divisions and lure people away from the clutches of their TVs.

On stage, the puckish Lauderdale strokes and bangs the keys of his piano, flirting with it like a mischievous lover, while the band's infectious blend of Latin, jazz, and cabaret seduces the crowd onto the dance floor.

Their timing was perfect. As young hipsters started dressing (and drinking) like their grandparents, Pink Martini became Portland's ambassadors to the Cocktail Nation. The band's debut CD, Sympathique, sold over 650,000 copies.

But seven years of deafening silence passed before Pink Martini released its sophomore venture, Hang On Little Tomato, an effort that began while Lauderdale was singing about bananas and tomatoes for a QFC commercial. ("I like fruit," he explains. "Only a cynical liberal-arts curmudgeon could resist fruits and vegetables, and nobody's that cool.")

In between puffs on his Djarum cigarettes, Lauderdale is planning the band's next CD and thinking about leaping back into the political arena to champion causes such as integrated housing downtown; he's even considering a run for mayor someday. "The mayor sets the tone for the city," he says. "And this city needs a real shake-up, the restoration of some balls."

Mayor Lauderdale? It doesn't sound any crazier than Gov. Schwarzenegger. And that cocktail revolution would at least have a stellar soundtrack.

The Hemlock State

Enough already about the right to life. What about the right to death?

BY JOHN BUFFALOE

Alarmed by the dark side of medical technology-its ability to prolong life without regard to the quality of that life-advocates propose a ballot measure to make Oregon the only place in America where doctors can write lethal prescriptions for their terminally ill patients-legally.

The debate is fierce: Supporters hail the idea as offering comfort to cancer patients. Opponents warn darkly of thin wedges and slippery slopes and predict that Oregon will become the nation's death capital. The measure squeaks through, 51 to 49 percent, but then goes down in litigation.

Three years later, opponents force a second referendum, which turns out even more ugly and brutal than the first. Both sides accuse the other of lying and distorting research. Some advertisements are so gruesome that local TV stations refuse to run them-like the one that depicts a terminally ill young man who, the announcer says, will "choke on his own vomit, in painful convulsions, and linger for days."

In the end, voters reaffirm their support for assisted suicide by a resounding 61 to 39 percent, and in March 1998, a Portland woman who fought breast cancer for 22 years becomes the first person to end her own life with the help of a lethal prescription.

But the fight isn't over. Conservative Republicans Rep. Henry Hyde and Sen. Orrin Hatch sponsor a bill that threatens to invoke the Controlled Substances Act to yank the licenses of doctors who write lethal prescriptions. In response, Attorney General Janet Reno declares that federal drug-enforcement officers may not prosecute offending doctors. Sen. Don Nickles (R-Oklahoma) tries to force a bill through that overrides the Oregon law. This attempt dies only after Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden stands alone on the Senate floor and threatens a filibuster.

Newly anointed Attorney General John Ashcroft reignites the issue in 2001, once again conjuring the specter of the Controlled Substances Act to revoke licenses. Oregon fights back and forces the issue to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in August 2004 dismisses Ashcroft's case in a single, terse paragraph. Now the U.S. Supreme Court says it will take up the case.

Despite the dire predictions, civilization did not collapse and the massacre of grandmas failed to materialize. As of December 2003, only 171 people had taken the lethal prescription since the law was passed.

Perhaps the most important repercussion has been the dramatic shift in the way Oregonians die. Palliative care has improved, and Oregon is currently the national leader in hospice care. Today, terminally ill Oregonians can generally die as they choose-increasingly, they do it at home and under the sweet relief of morphine.


* Senate majority leader Dick Springer is busted for drunken driving in February after driving his car off a road near Gresham. The Portland Democrat blows 0.18 on his Breathalyzer test-twice the legal limit, and four times the stricter limit Springer championed in 1991.

* The Oregon Ducks football team heads to the Rose Bowl for first time in 37 years. They lose to Penn State 38-20 before a crowd of 102,000 fans.

* Three female attendants at Leathers Oil Co., a Gresham gas station, are shot in the head execution-style during a gruesome early-morning robbery. A decade later, the chief suspect, former employee Tyrom Walter Thies, is still at large.

* The X-Ray Cafe-formerly the UFO-shuts down after four years of fertile all-ages punk and indie action. Dead Moon and the Kurtz Project anchor the club's final bill.

* First appearance of the word "Internet" in WW.

* Nine Oregon firefighters die battling a forest blaze on Colorado's Storm King Mountain. The elite Prineville Hot Shots were trapped by shifting winds that cut off their escape route.

* Kurt Cobain shoots himself.

* Grocery clerks wage a bitter three-month strike against Portland-area supermarkets. The United Food and Commercial Workers target Fred Meyer for picketing because the chain is weakened by negotiations with the Teamsters. But after 88 days, Freddie's breaks the strike, leaving the clerks My-Te-Frustrated.

* Community activists Tom O'Keefe and Joe Keating fix up 100 clapped-out old bikes, paint them bright yellow and release them on the streets of Portland for anyone to ride. The yellow bikes capture the city's imagination-and promptly disappear from view (in years to come they will be spotted as far away as San Francisco).

* Janet Marilyn Smith, 28, who suffers from mental illness, is shot and killed by police after she wanders into a Gresham Fred Meyer clutching her cat and a 12-inch kitchen knife.

* Eco-warrior Andy Kerr gets a frosty reception when he moves to the backwoods town of Joseph. Local townsfolk, frustrated by court decisions banning logging and grazing, hang Kerr in effigy; storekeepers refuse to trade with him. Years later, the green gnome hadn't budged. "Intolerant people have a short attention span," Kerr told WW.

* Still smarting from the defeat of her sales-tax proposal, Gov. Barbara Roberts decides not to seek re-election. Roseburg ER doc and fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber stems the Republican tide and wallops GOP candidate Denny Smith to become governor.

* The smell of exotic curries wafts through the air as dancers sway to complex ragas-the India Festival makes its debut at Pioneer Courthouse Square, drawing more than 4,000 visitors.


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