Philippe Petit Biography

Artist(1949–)
French daredevil Philippe Petit is best known for his 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers in New York City.

Synopsis

Born in 1949, French daredevil Philippe Petit became famous in August 1974 for his high-wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Called the "artistic crime of the century," Petit's daring feat became the focus of a media sensation. Petit has performed high-wire walks around the world, and a 2008 documentary based on his twin towers walk, Man on Wire, won awards and critical praise.

Early Life

Philippe Petit was born on August 13, 1949 in Nemours, France, to a French Army pilot and his wife. Petit started studying magic tricks at the age of 6. Some years later, he learned how to juggle. He took his talents to the city streets, performing for tourists. At the age of 16, Petit discovered his passion for the high wire and spent a year training on the tightrope. He incorporated this interest into his public performances. This ever-creative soul did not fare well in the academic world, having been kicked out of five schools by the age of 18.

World Trade Center Act

In his teens, Petit learned about the World Trade Center construction project in New York City. He read about the project's proposed twin towers while waiting in a dentist's office, and spent years planning to walk a high wire between the two buildings. Before he went to New York, however, Petit took on several other amazing tightrope challenges. In 1971, he traveled between the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on a wire. Two years later, he crossed the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia. In each instance, he had the help of friends in pulling off these impressive stunts.

In late 1973, Petit traveled to New York City. He spent months studying the World Trade Center's twin towers. To visit the site, Petit assumed a number of disguises, including being a reporter and a construction worker. He took photographs and made measurements. With help of friends, Petit started hiding his equipment in the towers in early August. He and accomplices then tucked themselves away in the buildings on August 6, 1974, to prepare for the big event.

In the morning of August 7, Petit stepped onto the tightrope, which was suspended between the two towers. A crowd of thousands soon gathered to watch the man on the wire more than 1,300 feet above them. For 45 minutes, Petit practically danced on the thin metal line. He was arrested for his efforts, and was ordered to give a performance in Central Park as his sentence. His impressive feat was later featured in the 2008 documentary Man on Wire.

With his World Trade Center walk, Petit helped people warm up to the then-maligned building development. Though the site's famous twin towers fell during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, Petit said he was pleased about the recent construction of new towers at the World Trade Center.

Other Projects

Since his famous New York City act, Petit has accomplished other fantastical feats in the United States and Europe. Petit still has one major walk on his wish list, however—he has been trying to organize a walk over the Grand Canyon for years. He has also written six books, including 1985's On the High Wire, and a one-man show about his life and work called Wireless.

With his daring and creative acts, Petit has inspired countless others. He shares his knowledge and insights as an artist-in-residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. He also continues to train for several hours each day at his home near Woodstock, New York, where he lives with his partner, Kathy O'Donnell.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!