Philippe Petit (born August 13, 1949) is a French high-wire artist who gained fame for his high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, New York, on August 7, 1974.
For his feat (which he referred to as “le coup”), he used a 450-pound cable and a custom-made 26-foot long, 55-pound balancing pole.
At an early age he discovered magic and juggling. At 16, he took his first steps on the wire. Petit learned everything by himself as he was being 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.”He also became adept at equestrianism, fencing, carpentry, rock-climbing and the art of bullfighting. Spurning circuses and their formulaic performances, on the sidewalks of Paris he created his street persona. In the early 1970s, he frequently juggled and worked on a slack rope in New York City’s Washington Square Park.
Beginning in the 1970s, Petit began eyeing world-famous structures as stages for high-wire walks, which he executed as a combination of circus act and public performance. He performed his first such walk between the towers of the Notre Dame de Paris. In 1973, he walked a wire rigged between the two north pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in Sydney, Australia
Sgt. Charles Daniels of the Port Authority Police Department, dispatched to the roof to bring Petit down, looked on in helpless amazement:
“I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’—because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker’—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire….And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle….He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again….Unbelievable really….Everybody was spellbound in the watching of it.”