Stuntmen have a reputation for being extremely brave, stupid and crazy. What many people do not realise though is that stuntmen regard their profession as a form of art. A niche has been carved out by some of the most daring stuntmen to have ever lived, creating an identity of celebrity about them and a cult fanbase. Many actors nowadays disregard the use of professional stuntmen in their films with the sense of performing their own stunts. Know why? Because they have witnessed firsthand the level of commitment, skill and practice (not to mention a huge pair of cojones!) it takes to complete such life-threatening manoeuvres. Below is a list of ten of the most dangerous stunts to have ever been performed. WARNING: DO NOT PERFORM ANY OF THESE AT HOME!!
1. Harry Houdini – Chinese Water Torture Cell
Harry Houdini is regarded by many as the greatest magician to have ever lived. Yet, technically, he wasn’t really a magician but more of an expert escapologist and stunt performer.
The fact that he was one of the first men to do what he did, people claimed his stunts were magic. Many of his stunts could have featured in this list because they were all so original: the Milk Can, the suspended straightjacket escape, being buried alive. However, the one that features is the Chinese Water Torture Cell. After the Milk Can Houdini gained a large number of imitators. So, to outdo them and prove that he really was the king of escapology he intorduced this. His feet were locked in stocks as he hung upside down and was lowered into a tank filled with water. Take that imitators!
2. Omar Locklear – Airplane Wing Walker
Did you know Omar Locklear became a famous stuntman by mistake? A trained pilot, in 1918 he started what is now known as wingwalking, when he walked the wing of his plane (whilst in mid-air) to fix an engine problem! That is just crazy. Locklear went on to become a famous wingwalking stuntman in Hollywood after this, until his death in 1920. Whilst perfoming his infamous stunt the plane caught fire and Locklear, along with his aid Milton Elliott, were killed when the plane crashed to the ground.
3. Dan Goodwin – Climber
In 1980 Goodwin witnessed the fire in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, which killed 84 people. He believed those people could have been saved if he had been allowed to climb the building to connect the cables from the ground which could have ferried the people to safety.
Upon declaring his plan at that moment he was branded a lunatic by the Las Vegas Fire Department fire chief and threatened with arrest. The following year on Memorial Day, Goodwin climbed the Sears Tower wearing a homemade Spider Man outfit. This was a great way to stick to fingers up at the authorities who would not allow him to help save his fellow man. Goodwin gained an instant cult following, some even declared him a hero. Even Stan Lee (creator of Spider Man) offered his praise. Since then Goodwin has climbed the Renaissance Tower, the John Hancock Center, the North Tower of the World Trade Center and the CN Tower.
4. David Smith Jr. – Human Cannonball
A legend in his own right, David Smith Jr. aka the Human Cannonball has been fired out of a cannon over 500 times. Such appeal is there to see the original Human Cannonball (who also answers to the nickname “The Bullet”) get fired out of the huge canon, the stuntman has taken this act around the world. He is officially the highest flying human cannonball in the world right now, but like Houdini, he’s not short of his imitators.
5. Philippe Petit – High-wire Walker
Outrageous scenes were witnessed in New York on August 7 1974. French high-wire artist Petit was in the city to walk the high-wire that had been situated between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The year before he had walked a wire that had been set up between the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, but this feat in New York was his masterpiece, or as he liked to refer to it as “le coup”. A film has been made about this stunt, Man on Wire, which both the World Cinema Jury and Audience awards at the Sundance Film Festival 2008.
6. Evel Knievel – Motorcycle Daredevil
Known all over the world and famous for his crashes as much as he was for his audacious stunts, Knievel was a daredevil God during the 1960s and 70s. Initially he performed stunts on his motorcycle to support his family, but it wasn’t long before he beagn performing stunts in front of the whole world. Knievel was relatively known among the esoteric during the 60s but it was his jump at Caesars Palace, well…more the crash-landing at Caesars Palace in 1967 that made him a star. He went on to perform jumps around the world and break bones in nearly every stunt; legs, feet, hips, back, concussion – all sustained until 1976 when Knievel practiced for his outrageous shark jump. Inspired by the film Jaws, Knievel planned to jump a tank full of live sharks. However, during one of his rehearsals he crashed into a cameraman and broke both arms. Worse was suffered by the camerman though who lost an eye. So distraught was Knievel, he retired from performing again.
7. Jackie Chan – Actor/Stuntman
It’s impossible to select one of Chan’s most dangerous stunts because there are so many! He is famous for performing all his own stunts and is a source of inspiration for many modern day actors who now do the same. As skilled as he is, Chan is no stranger to injuries sustained during filming on various films. While making Police Story he received cuts, bruises, second-degree burns and almost paralysed himself. In Project A he nearly broke his neck in a freefall. He cracked his head open so badly in Armor of God that he bled from the ears! One of the bravest stunts he must have ever performed though was on the set of Who am I? He slid down the side of a 21-story building (that was slanted at about 45 degrees) in a bid to escape the bad guys. Talk about immersing yourself in the role! Had that stunt gone wrong Chan would surely have met his maker.
8. Buster Keaton – Actor
Known for his comedic talent, Keaton is also regarded as one of the most daring actors Hollywood has ever produced. He broke his neck while filming Sherlock Jr. after performing his own stunts – simply for comedy. This did not deter him though because Keaton was keen on making the fans laugh. His bravest stunt ever has to be standing in front of a house, 2000 pounds and 3-stories of which collapsed on him. The only thing preventing him from being instantly crushed to death was the window (watch the clip above). Very clever, but very, very dangerous!
9. Alain Robert – Climber
Dubbed the Human Spider, Robert is the French equivalent of Dan Goodwin. He has climbed (freescale, i.e. without aid) nearly everything there is to climb around the world. Even the Sydney Opera House, Tower and Harbour Bridge in Australia? You bet. What about the Cheung Kong Centre in Hong Kong? Yep. Well, has he climbed the Sears Tower or the Empire State Building in America? Of course. Ok, but what about the almighty Taipei 101 – 508 m (1,667 ft)? That’s old news, he climbed that back in 2004. You name it, Robert’s climbed it.
10. Harold Lloyd – Actor
Underrated but nonetheless a genius of the silent movie era. Lloyd made over 200 films during the 1940s he was so popular! In nearly every film he performed some sort of thrilling daredevil stunt, which was a reason why he was so sought after. In his early career he lost a finger and thumb when a prop bomb he was carrying (on the set of Haunted Spooks) exploded by accident. His stunts varied every time, from scaling walls to walking along skyscrapers. He even hung from a clock tower by his fingertips while filming Safety Last!