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Philippe Petit
Petit at the 81st Academy Awards in February 2009
Born (1949-08-13) 13 August 1949 (age 65)
Nemours, Seine-et-Marne, France
Occupation High-wire artist

Philippe Petit (French pronunciation: ​[filip pəti]; born 13 August 1949) is a French high-wire artist who gained fame in 1974 for his high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, on the morning of 7 August.[1] For his unauthorized feat (which he referred to as "le coup"[2]) 1,350-foot (400-metre) above the ground, he rigged a 450-pound (200-kilogram) cable and used a custom-made 26-foot (8-metre) long, 55-pound (25-kilogram) balancing pole. He performed for 45 minutes, making eight passes along the wire. The next week, he celebrated his 25th birthday. All charges were dismissed in exchange for him doing a performance in Central Park for children.

Since then, Petit has lived in New York, where he has been artist-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, also a location of other aerial performances. He has done wire walking as part of official celebrations in New York, across the United States, and in France and other countries, as well as teaching workshops on the art. In 2008, Man on Wire, a documentary directed by James Marsh about Petit's walk between the towers, won numerous awards. He was also the subject of a children's book and an animated adaptation of it, released in 2005. The Walk, a movie based on Petit's walk, will be released in 2015, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit.

He also became adept at equestrianism, fencing, carpentry, rock-climbing, and the art of bullfighting. Spurning circuses and their formulaic performances, he created his street persona on the sidewalks of Paris. In the early 1970s, he visited New York City, where he frequently juggled and worked on a slack rope in Washington Square Park.

Early life[edit]

Petit was born in Nemours, Seine-et-Marne, France; his father Edmond Petit was an author and a former Army pilot. At an early age, the boy discovered magic and juggling. He loved to climb, and at 16, he took his first steps on a tightrope wire. Petit learned everything by himself, during a period when he was also expelled from five different schools.

"Within one year," he told a reporter, "I taught myself to do all the things you could do on a wire. I learned the backward somersault, the front somersault, the unicycle, the bicycle, the chair on the wire, jumping through hoops. But I thought, 'What is the big deal here? It looks almost ugly.' So I started to discard those tricks and to reinvent my art."[3]

World Trade Center walk[edit]

Petit's most famous performance was in August 1974, conducted on a wire between the roofs of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, a quarter mile above the ground. He performed for 45 minutes, making eight passes along the wire, during which he walked, danced, lay down on the wire, and saluted watchers from a kneeling position. Office workers, construction crews and policemen cheered him on.

Later life[edit]

Petit has made dozens of public high-wire performances in his career; in 1986 he re-enacted the crossing of the Niagara River by Blondin for an Imax film. In 1989, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, mayor Jacques Chirac invited him to walk an inclined wire strung from the ground at the Place du Trocadéro to the second level of the Eiffel Tower.

Petit briefly headlined with the Ringling Brothers Circus, but preferred staging his own performances. During his stunt with the circus and a practice walk, he suffered his only fall, from 45 feet (14 m), breaking several ribs. He says he has never fallen during a performance. "If I had, I wouldn't be here."[4]

Petit regularly gives lectures and workshops internationally on a variety of topics and subjects. He single-handedly built a barn in the Catskill Mountains using the methods and tools of 18th-century timber framers.[5] He wrote his eighth book, A Square Peg. He has also created an ebook for TED Books, entitled Cheating the Impossible: Ideas and Recipes from a Rebellious High-Wire Artist. Petit divides his time between New York City, where he is an artist in residence at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, and a hideaway in the Catskill Mountains.

Among friends who have associated with some of his projects are such artists as: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Werner Herzog, Annie Leibovitz, Miloš Forman, Volker Schlöndorff, Twyla Tharp, Peter Beard, Marcel Marceau, Paul Auster, Paul Winter, Debra Winger, Robin Williams and Sting.[citation needed] Director James Signorelli assisted with the creation of the book To Reach the Clouds (2002), about the Twin Towers walk.[6]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Works and performances[edit]

Major high-wire performances[edit]

Year Walk [clarification needed] Location Notes
1971 Vallauris Vallauris, Alpes-Maritimes, France performance for artist Pablo Picasso's 90th birthday
Notre Dame Cathedral Notre Dame Cathedral
Paris, France
staged walk between towers without permission
1973 Sydney Harbour Bridge Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney, Australia
staged walk between towers without permission
1974 World Trade Center World Trade Center
New York City, New York, United States
staged walk between towers without permission
Central Park Central Park
New York City
Publicly authorized walk on inclined wire over Turtle Pond
Laon Cathedral Laon Cathedral
Laon, France
performing on wire between the cathedral's two spires for an international television special
1975 Louisiana Superdome Louisiana Superdome
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
walk on wire across interior for the opening of the stadium
1982 Cathedral of Saint John the Divine Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
New York City, New York, United States
interior walk in height of nave to celebrate renewal of the cathedral's construction following a 40-year hiatus
Concert in the Sky Denver, Colorado, United States high-wire play directed and produced by Petit for the opening of the World Theatre Festival
1983 Skysong Purchase, New York, United States high-wire play directed and produced by Petit for the opening of "Summerfare," the State University of New York Arts Festival[7]
Centre Georges Pompidou Centre Georges Pompidou
Paris, France
1984 Corde Raide-Piano Volant Paris, France high-wire play directed and produced by Petit with pop-music singer-songwriter Jacques Higelin
Paris Opera Paris Opera
Paris, France
high-wire improvisation with opera singer Margherita Zimmermann
Museum of the City of New York Museum of the City of New York
New York City, New York, United States
high-wire performance for the opening of the museum's Daring New York exhibit
1986 Ascent Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
New York City, New York, United States
concert for grand piano and high wire on an inclined cable above the nave of the cathedral
Lincoln Center Lincoln Center
New York City, New York, United States
high-wire performance for the reopening of the Statue of Liberty
1987 Walking the Harp/A Bridge for Peace[clarification needed] Jerusalem, Israel high-wire performance on an inclined cable linking the Jewish and Arab quarters for opening of Israel Festival under Jerusalemite Mayor Teddy Kollek
Moondancer Portland Center for the Performing Arts
Portland, Oregon, United States
high-wire opera for the opening of the center
Grand Central Dances Grand Central Terminal
New York City, New York, United States
high-wire choreography on wire set above the interior concourse of the terminal
1988 House of the Dead Paris, France creation of the role of the eagle in a production of From the House of the Dead (1930), an opera by Leoš Janáček, directed by Volker Schlöndorff
1989 Tour Eiffel Paris, France spectacular walk – for an audience of 250,000 – on an inclined 700-metre (2,300-foot) cable linking the Palais de Chaillot with the second story of the Eiffel Tower, commemorating the French Bicentennial and anniversary of the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen, under Parisian Mayor Jacques Chirac
1990 American Overture American Center
Paris, France
high-wire play for the ground-breaking ceremony of the center
Tokyo Walk Tokyo, Japan Japan's first high-wire performance, to celebrate the opening of the Plaza Mikado building in Tokyo's Akasaka district[8][9]
1991 Viennalewalk Vienna, Austria high-wire performance evoking the history of cinema for the opening of the Vienna International Film Festival, directed by Werner Herzog
1992 Namur Namur, Belgium inclined walk to the Citadel of Vauban for a telethon benefiting children with leukemia
Farinet Funambule! Switzerland high-wire walk portraying the 19th-century Robin Hood of the Alps[clarification needed] culminated by harvesting the world's-smallest registered vineyard, to benefit abused children
The Monk's Secret Longing Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
New York City, New York, United States
high-wire performance for the Regents' Dinner, at the centennial celebrations of the cathedral
1994 Historischer Hochseillauf Frankfurt, Germany historic high-wire walk on an inclined cable to celebrate the city's 1,200th anniversary, viewed by 500,000 spectators and the subject of a live, nationally broadcast television special
1995 Catenary Curve New York City, New York, United States performance during a conference on suspended structures, led by the architect Santiago Calatrava
1996 ACT New York City, New York, United States medieval performance to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a New York City youth program[clarification needed]
Crescendo Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
New York City, New York, United States
theatrical, allegorical New Year's Eve performance on three different wires set in the nave of the cathedral as the farewell tribute to The Very Reverend James Parks Morton, Dean of the Cathedral, and his wife Pamela
1999 Millennium Countdown Walk Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History
New York City, New York, United States
Inauguration of the center
2002 Arts on the High Wire Hammerstein Ballroom
New York City, New York, United States
benefit performance for the New York Arts Recovery Fund on an inclined wire, with clown Bill Irwin and pianist Evelyne Crochet
Crystal Palace Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
New York City, New York, United States
Crossing Broadway New York City, New York, United States inclined walk, fourteen stories high, for the television talk show the Late Show with David Letterman (performed regularly since 1993)



Year Film Location Role Notes
1983 Concert in the Sky Denver Centre Productions, Inc., directed by Mark Elliot
1984 High Wire New York Prairie Dog Productions, directed by Sandi Sissel
1986 Niagara: Miracles, Myths and Magic Canada Blondin Seventh Man Films for the IMAX System, directed by Kieth Merrill
1989 Tour et Fil France FR3/Totem Productions, directed by Alain Hattet
1991 Filmstunde Austria Werner Herzog Productions, directed by Werner Herzog
1993 Profile of Philippe Petit Washington, D.C. National Geographic Explorer Special
1994 The Man on the Wire Germany Documentary of the rigging and artistic preparations for Hisorischer Hochseillauf, Hessischer Rundfunk Television
1994 Historischer Hochseillauf Germany Live broadcast of the walk, Hessischer Rundfunk Television, directed by Sacha Arnz
1995 Mondo France Costa Gavras Productions, directed by Tony Gatlif
1995 Secrets of Lost Empires: The Incas Peru PBS/NOVA and BBC co-production, directed by Michael Barnes
2003 The Center of the World of New York City: A Documentary Film, Episode 8: People & Events: Philippe Petit (1948-) New York City PBS
2005 The Man Who Walked Between the Towers USA Michael Sporn Animation and Weston Woods Studios
2008 Man on Wire UK Wall to Wall/Red Box Films, directed by James Marsh, Academy Award winning documentary

In culture[edit]

  • The iPhone/iPad app, "Walk On Wire," by the new media artist 'xtine burrough' was made in honor of (and inspired by) the 40th anniversary of Philippe Petit's Twin Towers walk.[10]
  • The song, "Man On Wire," by the band '27' is a tribute to Philippe Petit.[11]
  • The song, "Sleepwalking," by Danish composer Ste van Holm is a tribute to Petit's World Trade Center walk.[12]
  • The Low Anthem's song, "Boeing 737", from their 2011 album Smart Flesh, refers to Petit's Twin Towers walk.[13]
  • American rock band Incubus used a photo of Petit as the cover art for their album, If Not Now, When? (2011).
  • Colum McCann's National Book Award-winning novel, Let the Great World Spin (2009), features Petit's Twin Towers walk as its opening passage and a centrepiece to which numerous characters are connected.
  • "Funambulist," a song by American metal band Cormorant, is about his walk between the Twin Towers.[14]
  • "Walk the Wire" is a song about Philippe Petit by The Orchid House Project.
  • The song "Step Out Of The Void" by musician Howard Moss is a tribute to Philippe Petit, in the album Outside the Pale (2013).[15]
  • The song "Philippe Petit" by the Spanish band 'Cyan' is featured in their album "Delapso" (2013).
  • The song "Man On A Wire" by The Script on their fourth album, No Sound Without Silence, is influenced by Petit's high-wire legacy.
  • The television show, "White Collar", makes mention of Petit's Twin Towers walk in season 6, episode 1, wherein it details a fictional heist conducted in a similar fashion.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Lichtenstein, Grace (8 August 1974). "Stuntman, Eluding Guards, Walks a Tightrope Between Trade Center Towers; Free Performance Due 200 Planning Trips". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 April 2008. Combining the cunning of a second-story man with the nerve of an Evel Knievel, a French high-wire artist sneaked past guards at the World Trade center, ran a cable between the tops of its twin towers and tightrope-walked across it yesterday morning. 
  2. ^ Marsh, James (Director) (2008). Man on Wire (Documentary). 
  3. ^ Tomkins, Calvin, "The Man Who Walks on Air," New Yorker Magazine, 1999, excerpted in Life Story, by David Remnick, Modern Library Paperback edition, 2001.
  4. ^ Adam Higginbotham, "Touching the Void", The Observer,19 January 2003
  5. ^ http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324077704578360791105557174
  6. ^ To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers - Philippe Petit - Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-06-27. 
  7. ^ ROBERT SHERMAN, "FESTIVALS ENDING", New York Times, 7 August 1993
  8. ^ "Edward Suzuki Profile". Edward.net. Retrieved 2012-06-27. 
  9. ^ "Press Material - Philippe Petit" (PDF). cami.com. Retrieved 2012-06-27. 
  10. ^ . Apple Store. 2014-07-20 - and - https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/walk-on-wire/id898577008?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4 - Walk On Wire http://www.missconceptions.net/walk-on-wire - and - https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/walk-on-wire/id898577008?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4 - Walk On Wire. Retrieved 2014-07-25.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ "27 - Man On Wire (Re-Wire)". YouTube. 1974-08-07. Retrieved 2012-06-27. 
  12. ^ "sleepwalking_lyrics". Ste van Holm. Retrieved 2012-06-27. 
  13. ^ Jackson, Dan (8 April 2011). "Low Anthem's Circus High-Wire Act". Spin. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  14. ^ Gotrich, Lars. "Cormorant: Follow the Blackened Thread". NPR Music. Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  15. ^ http://www.howardmoss.com/apps/videos/videos/show/18236967-step-out-of-the-void

Further reading[edit]

Articles and interviews[edit]

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippe_Petit — Please support Wikipedia.
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3409 news items


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Fri, 31 Jul 2015 06:52:30 -0700

The film department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York will screen the entire career of director Robert Zemeckis, including his new film The Walk, about Philippe Petit's high-wire act between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. This means ...
Huffington Post
Fri, 31 Jul 2015 06:41:15 -0700

Charles Lindberg chose to pioneer a solo crossing of the Atlantic and Philippe Petit walked between the Twin Towers back in l974 which would have been merely a hop skip and a jump for Nick Wallenda who crossed Niagara Falls in 2012. Secretariat who ...

New York Times (blog)

New York Times (blog)
Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:00:42 -0700

29 through Oct. 18, and will open with a special screening of “The Walk,” his new 3-D film about Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. (“The Walk” is also the opening film at this year's New York Film ...

Entertainment Weekly (blog)

Entertainment Weekly (blog)
Wed, 29 Jul 2015 12:41:15 -0700

The Walk stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit, the high-wire artist who walked on a wire from one of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers to the other in 1974. Despite the postponement, the film is still designated the opening-night selection ...

The Guardian (blog)

The Guardian (blog)
Fri, 31 Jul 2015 03:49:10 -0700

First it's The Walk from Robert Zemeckis, which is, essentially, a dramatic retelling of Man on Wire and sees Gordon-Levitt test out iz French aksunt as daring high-wire artist Philippe Petit. The more likely of the pair is political thriller Snowden ...

Tiny Mix Tapes (press release)

Tiny Mix Tapes (press release)
Fri, 31 Jul 2015 08:15:21 -0700

Philippe Petit works in direct opposition to anything of a classical technique, in a radical way that's akin to the French daredevil who shares his name. For “Slowly the Door Creaks Open…,” the second half of his new album, Ear Me In , Petit focuses ...
Mon, 27 Jul 2015 11:22:30 -0700

Filmed on location in New York and Paris, MAN ON WIRE is the incredible true story of daredevil Philippe Petit's ambitious—and highly illegal—scheme to walk the high wire between New York's landmark Twin Towers on August 7, 1974. Featuring interviews ...

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