Harry Houdini might be history’s most famous daredevil but there are many that have sought to emulate, recreate and then outdo the most famous adrenaline junkie in history. Around the world with technology allowing for greater and greater feats of madness, people are pushing the boundaries of danger. For some it is purely the adrenaline rush, for others it is the accomplishment and for others still, challenges for charity. Here is a list of ten of the most notable daredevils from the modern era and throughout history.
1. Helen Skelton
The pint sized former Blue Peter presenter is one of the most unlikely daredevils on this list. Her girlie demeanour gives the false impression of being a typical celeb but this young lady has kayaked 2000 miles of the Amazon, trekked to the South Pole (and is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the first to travel there by bicycle), walked on a high wire between the towers of the Battersea Power Station and run in the Marathon Des Sables ‘ a 78 mile trek across the desert. Helen does all of this for the Sport Relief charity.
2. Evil Knievel
Aside from Houdini, Evil Knievel (real name Robert Craig Knievel) is arguably the most famous daredevil in the world. This American stunt rider reached global fame in the late 1970s with a series of motorcycle jumps. In 1974, he tried and failed to jump the Snake River Canyon. Aside from his jumping exploits, he is in the Guinness Book of Records as ‘the most number of broken bones ever sustained in a single human body’. He broke an eye-watering 433 bones throughout his life. He died in 2007 following almost a decade of illness
3. Eddie Kidd
Britain’s answer to Evil Knievel, he also made fame as a motorcycle stunt rider. Considerably younger than Knievel, he shot to global fame at about the same time ‘ in many ways their jump careers are paralleled. He holds many world records and played stunt double in a lot of the James Bond films of the Moore and Dalton era. He is most famous for jumping over the Great Wall of China in 1994. However, his career came to an end when he suffered an injury in 1996 and was paralysed.
4. Ethel Dare
Dare (real name Margie Hobbs) was known as the ‘Flying Witch’ during her career. The most famous female wing walker in the history of the stunt, she performed the world’s first plane-to-plane wing walk ‘ meaning that in mid-flight she crossed from the wing of one aircraft onto the wing of a second aircraft. Her signature move was to leap from a moving aircraft with a rope attached to her ‘ perhaps inventing the bungee jump too! Sadly, she plunged to her death during one air show in the USA.
5. Nik Wallenda
As an accomplished tight rope walker and having started at a young age, nobody believed that he would go on to perform such an amazing feat – a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon. Years of training led him to wire walk over many natural features, including the first person to walk directly over Niagara Falls. But it was thousands of feet above Grand Canyon that he hit worldwide fame. His journey, which was screened around the world on Discovery Channel, was completed in just over 22 minutes. Future walks might include a wire over the Bosphorus continental divide.
6. Annie Edson Taylor
Going over of Niagara Falls is never a good idea and a quick trip to certain death ‘ which makes it an attractive place to attempt to defy death. Taylor hoped to survive the fall over the Canadian falls in a barrel ‘ she wanted to do this for her 63rd birthday. She survived the trip and went into the record books for her achievement. Previous to this, Taylor had had no formal training or experience in such death-defying feats. The stunt was to give her worldwide notoriety and prevent her going into a Poor House due to financial hardship. She died in 1921 aged 83.
7. Jeb Corliss
The modern daredevil is more than likely going to be a BASE (Building, Aerial, Span, Earth) jumper and they do not come more famous than this man. The process involves jumping from a fixed object and using a parachute to break the fall. In his career, Corliss has jumped from the Eiffel Tower, the Space Needle in Seattle, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio and the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. In 2006 he was arrested for trying to jump off the Empire State Building.
8. Alain Robert
Most famous as a rock climber, Robert is known as ‘French Spiderman’ for the trademark way in which he scales skyscrapers with no climbing equipment, except climbing shoes. He also carries a bag of chalk and nothing more ‘ no ropes, harnesses or other safety equipment. Because he rarely seeks permission (believing he would not get it) he is arrested regularly for his exploits ‘ including one occasion halfway up the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
9. Felix Baumgartner
Felix was already a famous BASE jumper when he announced his most daring feat yet. The Austrian declared that he would travel to the very limits of the atmosphere and jump to Earth from a record 128,000 feet. The feat was sponsored by drinks maker Red Bull and titled ‘Red Bull Stratos’. The resulting jump lasted four minutes and nineteen seconds ‘ seventeen seconds short of his mentor’s jump which was some seventy four thousand feet – making it the second longest free-fall in human history. Baumgartner also went into history books as the first human to break the sound barrier.
10. Maria Spelterini
Niagara Falls is one of those sites that appear to attract daredevils. A number of daredevils in this list used it for something during their career. Maria Spelterini is another ‘first’ for the natural wonder. She was the first and, to date, the only woman ever to have crossed any part of Niagara Falls on a tightrope. A well-known circus performer and daredevil prior to this, she took part in the celebration to mark the centenary of the USA. In total, she crossed the canyon four times in her career ‘ each feat riskier than the last.
It is human nature to egg others on to do dangerous acts, usually for the thrill. For some, it is something they get out of their system when they are young. For others still, they continue to seek that thrill as long as they are physically able to do so, either doing it for charity or as a personal goal. The above daredevils are very much part of what it means to be human though in most cases it is probably best if you ‘don’t try this at home’.