Deaf stuntwoman who was in Hollywood films before becoming the world’s fastest woman dies age 72

A deaf stuntwoman and daredevil who became the world’s fastest woman has died at the age of 72.

Kitty O’Neil performed stunts on TV shows and films before claiming the land-speed record for women in 1976.

She was a stuntwoman for Lynda Carter’s on the 1970s TV series of Wonder Woman and doubled for Lindsay Wagner on The Bionic Woman.

O’Neil also featured in The Blues Brothers, in Smokey and the Bandit II, the Omen II, Airport ’77, as well as performing the stunts in a TV movie of her own life – Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story – standing in for star Stockard Channing.

During her career she was set on fire multiple times and was the first woman to pull off a ‘cannon-fired car roll’, in which an explosive charge is put under the vehicle which causes it to repeatedly roll over.

Her success as a stuntwoman led her into the world of speed racing and she set a land-speed record for women in 1976, which still stands today.

She got into the record books by travelling at an average of 512mph through the Alvord Desert in Oregon in a rocket-powered vehicle called The Motivator.

On water she set world speed records at 275mph in a jet-powered boat called Captain Crazy and broke records on water-skis at 105mph.

O’Neil, who lost her hearing when she was four months old after contracting a fever from measles, also had a Barbie doll made in her image, complete with a yellow jumpsuit and helmet. 

The 5ft 2in Texan was also a champion three-meter and platform diver as well as racing boats, motorbikes and dune buggies.

Her most famous Hollywood stunt was in 1979 when she plunged 127ft headfirst from the top of the Valley Hilton hotel in Los Angeles onto an inflatable air bag on the pool terrace below while dressed as Wonder Woman.

‘If I hadn’t hit the center of the bag, I probably would have been killed,’ she told The Washington Post in 1979.

She then broke the high-fall record again when she plunged out of a helicopter at 180ft at a height she said made the airbag look like a postage stamp.

O’Neil was also the first woman to join the Hollywood stunt agency Stunts Unlimited. 

But her hopes of competing in the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo for the diving team were dashed when she broke her wrist and contracted spinal meningitis, which threatened to paralyze her.    

While filming a TV show in 1978, she flipped a rocket-powered Corvette while trying to set a quarter-mile speed record in the Mojave Desert in Nevada.

‘I’m not afraid of anything, just do it. It feels good when you finish, you made it,’ she told a reporter in 2015. 

O’Neil, whose mother was a Cherokee Native American, died in South Dakota when she went to retire, at the age of 72. 

It is thought she had suffered from pneumonia and heart attacks before she died last Friday.  


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