The events of the 1994 Winter Olympics which led to Tonya Harding's infamy introduced a colorful cast of characters to the world. One of them included Harding's bodyguard, and what happened to Shawn Eckardt is truly tragic. Most people who remember the 1994 scandal, during which Harding's figure skating competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, was whacked on the knees with a metal baton as she was practicing for the U.S. Championships, probably remember Eckardt. As the new movie I, Tonya depicts, he and Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, became suspects for the crime, and they both pleaded guilty to racketeering in their attempts to harm Kerrigan.
According to The New York Times, Gillooly was sentence to a two-year term, while Eckardt had an 18-month sentencing. The latter was released four months early, in September 1995, and he went on to open up a computer business in 2001, according to The New York Times. Just six years later in Dec. 2007, Eckardt passed away in Portland, Oregon, at just 40 years old. The New York Times, which announced his death, called him Brian Sean Griffith, which Eckardt changed his name to after getting out of prison. Mike Skinner, Eckardt's brother, told The Oregonian, "Shawn Eckardt died a long time ago. There is no other person than Brian Griffith," following the bodyguard's passing.
Eckardt plays an important role in the movie I, Tonya, and that's because he played a big part in the investigation that followed Kerrigan's assault. The scandal received so much national attention that Eckardt was interviewed by Diane Sawyer before being released from prison. During the interview, Eckardt claimed to Sawyer that Gillooly might have originally sought to kill Nancy Kerrigan, but he told Harding's ex-husband, "No, we don't need to do that. There's other things you can do to disable somebody rather than — you don't need to kill." Eckardt then set up the attack on Kerrigan with a hit man, Shane Stant, and Derrick Smith, Stant's uncle.
The whole thing created such a stir that it became a national sensation, and Eckardt was a key figure throughout the whole investation. When Kerrigan hosted Saturday Night Live in 1994 — after the Winter Olympics in which the figure skater ended up winning the silver medal — Chris Farley and Rob Schneider parodied Eckardt and Gillooly, respectively. You know something was a major cultural phenomenon if SNL parodied it, and Eckardt definitely became a household name for all the wrong reasons in the early '90s.
In I, Tonya, Eckardt is played by Paul Walter Hauser, and the actor nails his impression of the bodyguard. Rather than focus on the 1994 attack, I, Tonya instead focuses greatly on Harding's upbringing and the backstory that led up to the unbelievable pre-Olympics controversy. Still, the movie's screenwriter, Steven Rogers, made sure to interview Gillooly and others so as not to only get Harding's side of the story. As Rogers wrote in the LA Times, Gillooly and Harding had different ideas about how everything went down. "Tonya and Jeff remembered almost nothing the same way," Rogers said.
As if Gillooly's and Harding's contradicting stories aren't enough to keep up with, I, Tonya also focuses on a third central character, Harding's mom, LaVona Fay, aka "Sandy" Golden. Rogers doesn't discuss whether or not he consulted with Fay to hear her side of the story, and that might be because Harding and her mother have not spoken since 2002. As you can tell, each relationship featured I, Tonya, is fraught with built-up animosity. All together, it makes for a fascinating look at some of the early '90s' most intriguing people, from Eckardt to Harding herself.