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  • Jen Booton

Badassery: Tight Roping the Twin Towers

Each week we highlight badasses throughout history doing the unthinkable in celebration of human potential. This Week: Philippe Petit, who is best known for a high-wire walk between New York City’s twin towers in 1974



Philippe Petit is a French daredevil who famously walked between the twin towers in New York City on a tightrope in 1974.


Petit, 70, started out doing magic tricks and stunts as a street performer in Paris. Just one year after beginning his high wire career, he learned about the recently opened World Trade Center and became determined to high-wire between the two some 1,300-feet above the street.


Before reaching the twin towers, he practiced by high-wiring the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in 1971.


Three years later, at the age of 24, Petit walked between the towers in NYC eight times on a 131-foot cable in front of hordes of media and spectators -- even taunting the waiting policemen who arrested him as soon as he descended.

The stunt was deemed “the artistic crime of the century.” He was immediately placed in handcuffs and charged with disorderly conduct, criminal trespassing, endangering his life and others, and operating without a permit. The charges were later dropped in exchange for a small free performance in Central Park.


Many filmmakers would approach Petit about buying the rights to his story. However, he turned many offers with big dollar signs down in fear of losing control of the narrative.


Finally, he agreed to work with a director named James Marsh who had previously made films on Elvis Presley and Marvin Gaye. The documentary, called Man on Wire, was released in 2008 and won an Oscar for best documentary. During his acceptance speech, he performed magic (making a coin disappear) and balanced the golden statuette on his nose.

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