Sports: Johnny Drama

Figure-skater Johnny Weir makes headlines for his bad-boy life off the ice.

On the day we first meet, a film crew from Retribution Media — two young guys he calls “the ladies” — sits with us. They’re here to pick up some clips for a planned reality series featuring Johnny, which as yet has no network or air date. He’s requested that I “look pretty” for our interview.

Looking pretty comes naturally to Johnny Weir. He’s a fetching hybrid of the feminine and masculine, an androgynous gossamer who attracts women and gay men equally. He’s lean and sinewy at five-foot-nine, and his most striking feature is his pouty bottom lip, the kind you want to bite, that anchors a top shelf of perfectly aligned, ice-white teeth. A brush of eyelashes frame kind, wide green eyes set off by a straight, serious set of eyebrows and a square jawline. He’s beautiful.

Then there are the costumes, covering up all his Johnny-looks-goodness with thematic glitter, glitz and jewels. “For a long time, I was told I had to ‘butch up’ and not be so balletic when I skate — this is the federation telling me this,” he says in disgust. “Christina Aguilera [his idol] never really let herself be told what to do.” He catches himself. “Except for her first album, we’ll give her that.”

At just 23 years old, he’s ranked among the top five male figure skaters in the world. And that may be the most shocking thing about Johnny Weir — cheeky quips and Cher-like showiness aside, he’s a total professional. Intelligent. Polite. These are the sides of Johnny the media doesn’t advance. By the end of the day, I want to spend more time with him—not for an article, but for the conversation. “The part that I will always hold dear is he can be so funny,” says Priscilla Hill, his Delaware coach for more than a decade. “He can get you with one word. But if it’s taken out of context, it can be used to hurt him, which is the unfortunate part. And that’s come back to bite him sometimes.”

His career began,
not in a pricey private rink, but rather on the cornfield abutting his parents’ Lancaster County farm, where at age 12 he taught himself to skate after the melted snow froze over. He watched Oksana Baiul on TV and tried to copy her moves, and in warmer weather he practiced on roller skates. He picked the sport up quickly (while it usually takes years to learn a double axel, Johnny got it in one week), and after just three years was competing internationally. In his fifth, he won the World Junior Championship. He was 16.

His parents worked at a PECO power plant before his father, John, injured his back in a car accident. Eventually, Johnny, his younger brother and his parents moved to a modest home in Newark, so Johnny could train with Priscilla Hill. Patti worked three jobs while Hill picked Johnny up from school, schlepped him to and from practice, watched out for him, and became a second mom.