For one memorable stunt in the “Wonder Woman” television series, Kitty O’Neil jumped off the roof of a Hilton hotel in Los Angeles and fell 127 feet before landing on an inflated air bag, setting a new women’s high-fall record, The Washington Post reports. “If I hadn’t hit the center of the bag, I probably would have been killed,” she told the Post.
A barrage of childhood diseases, including mumps, measles and smallpox, nearly killed her at 5 months and left her deaf. Her Native American mother taught her sign language and lip reading.
She went on to play piano and cello, to train for the Olympics as a diver (injury and illness made her miss the Games) and to drive at 417 miles per hour.
After brushes with death that included spinal meningitis and cancer, she decided to test herself relentlessly. She became a legendary Hollywood stunt woman, standing in for Lindsay Wagner of “The Bionic Woman,” dangling out of a sixth-story window for an episode of the television detective show “Baretta,” braving rising waters on a sinking jet plane in the movie thriller “Airport ’77,” and rolling, crashing or racing cars for films such as “The Blues Brothers” and “Smokey and the Bandit II.”
She notched an average speed of 512.71 mph during two runs — obliterating the previous record of 321 mph, set by Lee Breedlove in 1965 — driving a hydrogen peroxide-fueled vehicle, and reaching a maximum of 618 mph.