Known as the “artistic crime of the century”, the stunt brought the Frenchman to international stardom overnight. His mind-bogglingly daring and dangerous feat, performed in August 1974, is retold in The Walk, which fittingly premieres at the New York Film Festival.
Here are 10 more thrillingly audacious extreme stunts that will also live long in daredevil notoriety:
Longest human cannonball flight
The American David “The Bullet” Smith Jr’s achieved a world best, in Milan in March 2011, when he was projected out of a cannon 59.05m (193ft 8.8 in), travelling at 120.7km/h (75mph) and 23 metres high.
That length (from the cannon mouth to the furthest point reached on the safety net) is four metres longer than the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Smith has been shot out of 5,000 cannons in his career as a stuntman, having been influenced by his father, David “Cannonball” Smith Sr., “the greatest human cannonball that ever lived”, according to his inspired son.
Climbing Mount Everest in nothing but shorts
Wim Hof enjoys the moniker of “Iceman” and is indeed as cool as they come. In 2007 the Dutch daredevil, who is able to withstand extreme cold and considered a master of tummo meditation (a form of yoga), attempted to scale the world’s highest mountain in only shorts – he failed, however, thanks to a foot injury.
Two years later – and again wearing nothing but shorts – he reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in just two days. He holds 18 world records, and in 2008 Hof broke his own best by immersing himself in ice for one hour, 13 minutes and 48 seconds.
Buried alive – for seven days
Another person famed for endurance skills is David Blaine, the Brooklyn-born magician. His 1999 “Buried Alive” stunt – when he was entombed in a cramped plastic coffin underneath a three-ton water-filled take for seven days – gained worldwide acclaim.
He ate nothing, drank just two to three tablespoons of water each day, and his only access to the outside world was through a hand buzzer, which would only be used in an emergency. Harry Houdini had planned a similar feat but died in 1926 before he could perform it. His niece Marie Blood said: “My uncle did some amazing things, but he could not have done this.”
Diving 702ft in a one single breath
A former Tyrolean Airways pilot, 45-year-old Herbert Nitsch is better known for his achievements in water, not air. Known as “the deepest man on Earth”, he has chalked up 32 official free-diving world records.
In 2007 he managed to descend 702ft (214m) – almost the equivalent height of Canary Wharf – in just one breath off Spetses in Greece, bettering his own previous mark. By comparison the women’s best – held by the American Tanya Streeter since 2002 – is 525ft. Three years ago he almost died attempting to reach 800ft.
Swimming the piranha-infested Amazon River
The Slovenian Martin Strel battled with dengue fever, sunburn, extremely powerful currents and candiru (blood-sucking parasitic catfish that can invade the urethra) in 2007 to swim 3,300 miles – longer than the width of the Atlantic Ocean – of the Amazon River.
Strel, who turns 61 in October and holds world bests for swimming the Danube, the Mississippi and the Yangtze as well as the Amazon, said of the 66-day challenge: “I was attacked by piranhas a few times. At one point they were eating my back.” His team’s remedy was to pour buckets of blood in the water nearby, diverting the deadly fishes’ attentions.
Tightrope walking over Niagara Falls
For 125 years it was illegal to cross from Canada to the United States via Niagara Falls, so when Nik Wallenda became the first person to tightrope-walk across the waterfalls in 2012 it was significant.
With no safety net, the high-wire artist had to contend with a vertical drop of more than 165ft. Two years in the making, it took him nearly 40 minutes to reach land. He possesses six world records for his acrobatic feats. Further, as great-grandson of the late Karl Wallenda (founder of The Flying Wallendas), his family’s rich funambulist heritage continues.
Jumping the Grand Canyon
Robbie Knievel did what his famous American daredevil motorbiking father, “Evel”, desired but never managed: he jumped the Grand Canyon, to great fanfare in March 1999. Stunts were in his blood, and the younger Knievel first performed a show with his father at the age of eight.
The 53-year-old has completed more than 350 jumps and has set 20 world records in the process, though the Grand Canyon event is the one that most captured public imagination. The length of the jump was 223ft – a personal record – ended with him losing control of the bike and breaking his leg.
Free-climbing Yosemite’s notorious Dawn Wall
An American duo this year became the first people to free climb Yosemite National Park’s treacherous Dawn Wall, regarded as the hardest of its kind in the world.
The Californian Kevin Jorgeson, who turns 31 in October, contacted 37-year-old Tommy Caldwell after the latter had mused in a 2009 film, Progression, whether such a feat was possible. It took the pair 19 days to free-climb to the top as they ate and slept on the granite, in suspended tents.
Free-climbing the Burj Khalifa
When it comes to solo free-climbing up buildings, there is one man who stands alone. Frenchman Alain Robert, known as Spider-Man, has made a name for scaling some of the world’s highest skyscrapers armed with nothing but chalk for his hands and wearing climbing shoes.
In March 2011, at the age of 48 he reached the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Without a harness he climbed all 828m (2,717ft) of the planet’s tallest construction.
Highest free-fall from the edge of Earth
While the Austrian skydiver and stuntman Felix Baumgartner gained much worldwide publicity when he jumped 39km (24 miles) in 2012 (becoming the first person to go through the sound barrier without powered help), his record was broken, in more modest fashion, last year by the American Alan Eustace, a computer scientist and former Google executive – and a man not previously considered to be a daredevil.
He reached an altitude of 135,889ft (25.7 miles, 41.4km). Eustace’s descent to Earth lasted 15 minutes and stretched nearly 26 miles (42km), with peak speeds exceeding 821mph.