The movie The Walk is now in theaters and millions of people are attesting to how good, how literally nauseating, and how inspired The Walk was. But who is the real man who did the real The Walk? How did he manage to do “the walk” and why?
French high-wire walker Philippe Petit was the legendary man who did the walk between the two rooftops of the World Trade Center in 1974. With a small group of partners-in-crime, Petit was able to pull of the walk by illegally rigging a wire between the rooftops of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
Petit planned his daredevil stunt for more than six years and he was only 24 when he did the walk between the two towers. It was a 45-minute walk, crossing the wire for a total of eight times with a breathtaking recline at the middle of the act. People talked to the man who did the legendary walk, now 66-years-old, and relived that memorable walk between the towers of the one of the most famous buildings in the world.
It was 7:15 a.m. when Petit started his walk between the towers, after spending more than 36 hours planning and staging the secret operation to transport to the rooftop all materials and equipment needed to pull off the walk. His friends did all sorts of crazy stuff, posing as deliverymen and construction workers to hide and bring 500 pounds of cable and other equipment to the top. But his first step on the wire that morning was all it took for Petit to gather up all his energy to finish the walk that he dreamed about for years.
“I could not make that decision. It was too enormous. Without asking me, my right leg went onto the cable. The minute I felt the cable was safe enough, then I started enjoying myself. And then I started performing, all improvised.”
Petit was a legend during the walk that he did, doing stunts that normal tightrope walkers will never do. 110 stories up in the air, he looked down during his walk, and took the whole experience in: the walk, the height, the fear of dying any second if he missed one step during his walk since he did not wear any kind of protective gear or harness. He sat down a few times and he even lay down at the middle of the walk of his life, suspended 1,350 feet from the ground.
“I had worked nonstop for six and a half years in making that dream come true. Certainly the idea of abandon was not hovering over me. Not one second during that amazing, panic-like evening and morning did I think of giving up, to run away in fear, to abandon my dream.”
We found a rare jewel that attests to the walk that 40 years after was still the talk of the town: a newspaper clipping of Petit’s walk published in The Minneapolis Star via Flickr user Bryan. The newspaper article started with Petit’s words on his exhilarating walk.
“I was not scared…I was dying of happiness.”
The newspaper article on Petit’s walk across the Twin Towers reports that after the walk, Petit was arrested by the Police due to the illegality of his stunt—from the illegal bringing in of the cables, to the walk itself. But after hearing Petit’s case, the authorities dropped the charges of illegal trespassing and disorderly conduct against Petit on one condition: that he had to repeat the walk, but on a lower wire in Central Park for the benefit of local children.
Years after his crazy stunt, he is not regarded anymore as the bat-crazy tightrope walker people thought he was back in 1974, but a legend—the only person who was able to walk across the two towers of the World Trade Center on a tightrope. Petit and the walk that he did are now the basis of one Oscar-winning documentary in 2008, Man on Wire, and one blockbuster movie of 2015, The Walk, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Curbed reports that Gordon-Levitt even trained under the real man who did the walk, Philippe Petit, in preparation for The Walk.
From balancing a police hat on his nose in 1974 to balancing a flower in 2009, Petit has indeed gone a long way, thanks to the walk that he did that transcended the limits of humanity.
“If I see three oranges, I have to juggle. And if I see two towers, I have to walk.”
The Walk movie by Robert Zemeckis starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt is based on Philippe Petit’s legendary walk across the Twin Towers of the now gone World Trade Center. The Walk premiered in cinemas worldwide last September 30 and is available in IMAX 3D.
[Images courtesy of Man on Wire, Bryan/Flickr, and Frazer Harrison/Getty]