There have been a lot of daredevils and nutcases that loved to live on the edge and look death in the eyes whilst laughing with their stunts, which in a normal person’s mind look like a quick ticket to the afterlife. Believe it or not, daredevils or people who perform incredibly dangerous stunts are also artists that besides manifesting a unique talent are on the hunt for adrenaline.
Through a long list of courageous daredevils, one stands out for going to a completely different level of insanity. Philippe Petit was a high wire artist and one of the first to make this art popular around the world. The art of high-wire represented walking on a wire between two tall buildings and at a height that assures certain death in case something goes wrong.
The daredevil who shocked the world
Philippe was born in 1949 and since he was little he had this indescribable courage and an attraction to walk on a thin wire at high altitudes. He started practicing since he was a teenager at only a height of 5 meters.
Philippe was quite popular around Paris during the late 1960s and early 1970s. What brought his fame within France was a high wire stunt between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in 1971 at a height of 69 meters (226 feet).
After this stun, Philippe attracted the attention of Rudy Omankowsky, a famous stuntman at the time from Czechoslovakia who was performing similar stunts, but he wasn’t as crazy as Philippe.
Conquering the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center
His wish to one day perform a high wire stunt at the World Trade Center came many years before the construction of the twin towers to be finished. During the 1960s Philippe was going for his regular checkup at the dentist where he saw on the cover of a magazine the World Trade Center Towers being built. Once a daredevil puts an idea in his or her head they cannot get rid of it or continue with life before accomplishing it.
After the inauguration of the World Trade Center on the 4th of April, 1973, Philippe started traveling back and forth to New York in order to analyze the towers before the stunt of this life. The high wire isn’t just about having balance, but also about drawing sketches, calculations, and available access points. What Philippe was about to do was not very legal.
Even during the preparation phase, Philippe had to sneak into the building to reach the top and look at where he could fix his wire. Many times he had to wear a disguise as either a janitor, architect, construction worker, or security in order to get at the top of the building. His plan for the big stunt looked more like a heist than anything.
His plan was almost a bust during the last visit to the towers before the stunt as he stepped on a nail, but luckily this didn’t affect his ability to do the stunt and it actually helped him as the hospital gave him some crouches which was the perfect disguise as no one would interrogate a person in crouches.
During the same sneaky visit, Philippe met Barry Greenhouse who was working on the 82nd floor in one of the towers. Barry recognized Philippe straight away from his stun in Paris and decided to help him perform this stunt. That is how Barry Greenhouse became the inside man who let Philippe and his team through security with all the gear.
The wire that was used for this specific stunt was about 200 kg in weight and it had to be shot from one tower to another by using a powerful air pressured cannon. He and his team had to work the whole night before the big day to make sure that everything is set up. Once the stun would be performed they knew they would be arrested for trespassing so there was no escape plan.
Between the two towers, there was a distance of 61 meters (200 feet) and a height of 417 meters (1,368 feet).
On the morning of the 7th of August, 1974, Philippe stepped on the high wire without any safety strap or anything else that could save his life. As he got to the middle of the wire, thousands of people gathered to watch him. This even got the whole New York traffic to a halt.
He wasn’t just crossing the wire but performing various stunts like standing on his knees, standing on one leg, and laying down on the wire. Soon the New York police surrounded both buildings and raided the top of both towers. They told everyone to stay put and begged Philippe to return to one of the towers.
Philippe continued his high wire walk all the way to the second tower where he and his team were arrested, but with a smile on their faces as Philippe managed to accomplish his dream. In the end, they were all pardoned and Philippe even got a lifetime pass to the World Trade Center observatory.
Based on Philippe’s statements to the local news outlets that interviewed him, the stunt that he performed that day didn’t mean success or lust for attention, but pure happiness for accomplishing a dream that he had for years.
In 2009, Philippe Petit received an Oscar for a documentary he made in the honor of his daughter about his life story until 1974 named “Man on Wire”. In 2015 a film representing the preparation and performance of the stun came out named “The Walk” which sort of shows the same story you have read up to this point in more detail.
Philippe mentioned that the performance of high wire is a way of life. Just like on the wire, in life, having balance is extremely important. In an interview about the stunt from 1974, Philippe described the towers as being alive and him crossing the wire was a way of communicating with them. Understanding the life and emotions of artists (no matter the art form) is the most difficult thing in this world, but once you do it can also be the most beautiful emotion in life.