Philippe Petit Has Suffered For His Art

The Walk tells the daring true story of Philippe Petit, a wire walker who made his mark in 1974 when he walked across the Twin Towers in New York City on a tightrope eight times, dangling for 45 minutes, 1,350 feet above ground. The walk — set up in the dead of night, planned without authorization from the city and executed while local police watched from below — was, thankfully, a success. Petit walked across effortlessly (despite a few quick falls in practice), even throwing in a few tricks along the way. Needless to say, he lived to tell the tale, and continued to make a name for himself as a performance artist and wire walker. But Petit did not always walk away from his stunts without a scratch, in fact, Philippe Petit got hurt from wire-walking — but apparently, only once.

In 1975, one year after his famous stunt, Petit fell 45 feet while rehearsing a high wire act with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Petit reportedly fell while walking downhill on a slanted wire. Though he was conscious directly after the fall, he suffered internal injuries that required surgery. A witness to the fall told the local newspaper, Ottawa Citizen, that Petit was furious with himself following the fall. "He was more angry at himself than anything else," the witness said.

Petit claims he had never before suffered a fall, nor has he since. In fact, the artist remains adamant that the fall doesn't count because it occurred during rehearsal and not mid-performance. "It was practice. And practice is a very different field. Wire-walking in performance is one thing — I never fell, of course. If I had, I wouldn't be here talking about it," Petit is quoted as saying by The Guardian.

Petit has walked across wires hundreds of times — sometimes in public, other times in private — but he has never had a public fall. Petit credits his luck to a positive attitude. When he steps out onto the rope, he doesn't do it thinking that he is risking his life, he does it believing he will make it safely to the other side. He told The Daily Beast,

"One thing that people really do not understand is... 'He risks his life!' I am the opposite of that. I will never risk my life... Sometimes, yes, there are moments but usually it's a quarter of a second, it's not a minute. Maybe I had a little absence of focus for a quarter of a second. Or maybe something happened. A thought came into my brain, and I didn't repel it instantly on the wire," Petit said.

In his 2012 TED Talk, Petit described the faith he has that he will survive any given stunt, telling the crowd, "And I developed a certitude — a faith — that convinced me that I will get safely to the other side. If not, I will never do that first step."

It is this attitude that actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt latched onto to play Petit in The Walk. "He's such an optimist, Philippe. He's such a positive thinker, and when someone believes that you can do something, they you yourself believe you can do it, and that's when you can actually do it, when you believe in yourself," Gordon-Levitt told EW.

Petit still walks the tightrope regularly, and he hasn't slipped yet.