In 1974, Philippe Petit did the unthinkable: one August day, he hung a high wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center, and with the whole world's eyes watching, he waltzed across it as if it hadn't been over a thousand feet high. Then he did it again. And again, and again, eventually crossing the wire eight times. (Police reports from the day of Petit's walk refer to the feat as a "dance" — "I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’—because you couldn't call him a ‘walker,'" one officer observed.) The new 3D film The Walk retreads and reconstructs the ground of Man on Wire, casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the high wire artist in a film that could be described as the Ocean's Eleven of circus acts. It has elements of a heist thriller, adding intrigue and underlining that Petit's walk was above all, quite illegal. The World Trade Center walk catapulted Petit into headlines and history, overshadowing the rest of his travails as a high-wire artist. Pop culture may have lost him somewhere along the way, but where is Philippe Petit now?
Petit traversed the distance between the towers at just 24 years old. But now, just north of 40 years later, much of Petit's public presence is still focused on that brilliant and fateful walk. Man on Wire aside, he's also been the subject of a children's book (The Man Who Walked Between the Towers) and he's written his own account of the events in To Reach the Clouds. Since the original feat, he has continued tight-rope walking — starting immediately after the Twin Towers walk, with a Central Park event aimed towards children (and aimed towards clearing Petit of charges — he was technically trespassing when he set out on the wire between the World Trade Center towers). He's eschewed professional gigs, preferring the freelance life to a career with Ringling Brothers, though he did also briefly headline at the circus. So here is a rundown of where, quite literally, Philippe Petit has been since his historic walk.
1974: Turtle Pond, Central Park
Petit would have technically been guilty of a minor crime had he been charged for the walk between the two towers. But the City of New York dropped its charges in exchange for a free performance for children above Turtle Pond in Central Park, according to the Steppenwolf Theater's history of the events.
1982: St. John The Divine, New York
Petit has been an artist-in-residence at the Cathdral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan for some years now. When its new South Tower began construction, Petit "inaugurated" the program with a walk from Amsterdam Avenue to the West Front of the cathedral. (Two years prior, Petit had been arrested for walking a 601-foot distance across the cathedral's nave — but instead of pressing charges, church officials offered him the title of artist-in-residence, according to the New York Times.)
1986: Niagara: Miracles, Myths & Magic
In 1859, Charles Blondin (né Jean-François Gravelet) traversed a gorge below Niagara Falls. Petit reconstructed this feat for the IMAX film Niagara: Miracles, Myths & Magic (a film he called "historically ridiculous," according to the New Yorker).
1989: Eiffel Tower, Paris
Then-mayor of Paris and future-president of France Jacques Chirac invited Petit, apparently something of a national treasure following the World Trade Center feat, to walk an inclined wire connected to the Eiffel Tower for the 200-year anniversary of the French Revolution.
1994: Frankfurt, Germany
In front of an audience of about 500,000 people, Petit scaled the Frankfurt skyline and walked over the St. Paul Cathedral.
2013: Wallenda's Grand Canyon Walk
Petit hoped to cross the Grand Canyon over a decade before Nik Wallenda usurped his feat — his preparations were recorded in a New Yorker story from 1999. But due to lack of funding and lack of support from a necessary producer, Petit was sidelined midway through his preparations. When Wallenda completed the feat, he said he was unaware of Petit's desires to complete the same walk, according to the Herald-Tribune.
Though he's now located in the United States, Petit has returned to his homeland time after time in order to claim still more daring high wire walks as his own. In 1989, he traversed the Seine, and he joined the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus just after the World Trade Center walk. (He was injured in a fall during rehearsal with the circus, his only fall in his professional career, though he declares that it doesn't count because it was just a practice run, according to the New Yorker.) Though the World Trade Center act remains his most memorable, it has overshadowed a whole series of daring and jaw-dropping walks that Petit has done over the course of his career.
Images: Tristar Pictures; Giphy