Bodyguard business booming among plain folks these days

January 24, 1994|By Suzanne Gordon | Suzanne Gordon,Knight-Ridder News Service Staff writer Rob Hiaasen contributed to this article.

Before Kevin Costner swept Whitney Houston off her feet and before Shawn Eric Eckardt allegedly conspired in a plan to knock figure skater Nancy Kerrigan off hers, nobody really talked much about bodyguards.

But more people today are hiring bodyguards -- and the new employers aren't only the rich and famous.

Women escaping from abusive husbands, lawyers who want protection after receiving threats, corporate bigwigs and people trying to avoid stalkers are looking to bodyguards for safety, area detectives say.

"She was a very attractive woman, and her parents were quite wealthy," says Baltimore private investigator Craig B. Spicer, recently hired to protect a 22-year-old woman from a stalker.

He was her bodyguard for one week. The stalker was eventually scared away, Mr. Spicer says. And the woman's parents were billed $3,500.

"We are the buffer between them and the public," says private investigator Robert Blackburn. He employs 15 bodyguards in his Baltimore agency, including two women.

In Mr. Blackburn's 20 years on the job, he's been a bodyguard for visiting actors such as William Hurt and Jessica Lange.

In the last five years, Mr. Blackburn says, many more corporate officers have hired him when they come to town for board meetings. "A lot of them don't need the protection. It's gotten to be a status symbol in some cases," he says.

Bodyguards are also hired for routine nights out on the town. Women at bachelorette parties have hired personal protection so they don't get hassled by guys, Mr. Blackburn says. Others just wanting to attend a downtown function hire a bodyguard for the night, too.

"Chauffeur bodyguards will be the thing," says veteran bodyguard Mike Mangione of Philadelphia, who protected Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley when they came to town during the 1970s. "Right now there are people in this business, particularly in Los Angeles and New York, it's all they do.

"There's no doubt in my mind it's going to be a growing field," says Mr. Mangione, who retired as a Philadelphia police chief inspector in 1983.

But now, with all the publicity surrounding the arrest of Mr. Eckardt, 26 -- who is the bodyguard of figure skater Tonya Harding and who was charged with conspiracy to commit assault against Ms. Kerrigan, Ms. Harding's chief competitor -- the focus is shifting to the need for people to carefully screen whom they hire for protection.

"I would think you would want to get a background check of that person," Mr. Blackburn says.

Many detective and security companies offer armed bodyguards part of their services; other bodyguards get work from referrals. Corporations often train members of their security staffs to act as bodyguards for their executives.

Vince Massarelli, educational director for the security and law program for the American Center for Technical Arts and Sciences in Philadelphia, says more of his students are interested in bodyguard training than ever before.

The 750-hour course offered by the school covers law enforcement, terrorism and security as well as bodyguard training.

"A couple years ago, you probably didn't hear of bodyguard work," he says.

Now many jobs are available for his students, Mr. Massarelli says. And being a bodyguard pays well. They can earn about $100 an hour,and $500 for a single evening's work.

Baltimore's Mr. Spicer says the image of the bodyguard is changing now, Tonya Harding's former bodyguard's appearance notwithstanding. Bodyguards don't even go by the term

bodyguard anymore. These days, they are called personal protection specialists.

And, he says, "Size matters not. It's a lot of thinking involved now. You have to be smarter than the bad guy."

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