Jenny Wallenda, the famous high-wire circus performing family matriarch, died late Saturday evening the age of 87 in her home in Sarasota, Florida.
According to The Christian Science Monitor, nephew Rick Wallenda said his aunt died following a lengthy illness, but would not specify as to the nature of it.
“She had a great life in entertainment, a very rewarding and rich life,” he said.
The Flying Wallendas are one of the most admired group in the circus family and her loss will certainly be felt around the world. Jenny was the daughter of the notable daredevil Karl Wallenda, founder of the circus group and Martha Henderson. She was also grandmother to Nik Wallenda, who continues his grandfather’s tradition to this day.
After responding to an ad for a “hand balancer with courage,” German-born Karl Wallenda learned the dangerous art of wire walking and in 1922 began his own group with his brother, Herman, and two others, including his future wife Helen. In 1928, the Wallendas were not able to use their net and received a standing ovation for their performance.
Ever since then, the family’s acts have featured no safety net and the results have been catastrophic. Jenny Wallenda has been witness to several tragedies involving other family and extended family members, which at some point earned the group the title of “cursed.”
Karl was responsible for creating the most dangerous acts, including the seven person pyramid, which is still performed today. In 1962, during the act in Detroit, the front man caused the pyramid to collapse killing Jenny Wallenda’s husband, Richard Faughnan as well as a nephew. His adopted son was paralyzed from the waist down, while Karl suffered pelvis injuries.
Despite several other incidents, which resulted in other Wallenda family members’ deaths, Karl moved on with his high wire act until his own death at 73, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while attempting to cross between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel.
Jenny Wallenda was sent to Germany to live with her grandparents when she was 6-years-old and she survived the horrors of World War II and was there for the end of the conflict. She returned to the U.S. in 1947 to join the Flying Wallendas. She performed in the high wire as an adult.
Grandson Nik paid tribute to Jenny Wallenda after she died, with a touching statement on his Facebook page which read in part. “She was an amazing woman who lived a truly incredible life. She will be missed everyday. Oma in your honor, I will Never Give Up!!!”
[Image via Christian Science Monitor]