The Fearless Stuntwoman and Racer: Remembering Kitty O’Neil
Kitty O’Neil was a legendary person in the world of stunts and racing, known for her fearlessness, determination, and indomitable spirit. Despite being deaf since the age of five months, O’Neil never let her disability define her, and instead pursued her passions with unwavering commitment and talent. In this blog, we will explore the life and legacy of this remarkable woman, who broke barriers and shattered stereotypes throughout her career.
Early Life and Career: Kitty O’Neil was born on March 24, 1946, in Corpus Christi, Texas. She was diagnosed with profound deafness at the age of five months, which was attributed to a combination of genetic factors and an adverse reaction to a measles vaccine. Despite her disability, O’Neil was a highly active child, and she loved playing sports and participating in outdoor activities.
In her late teens, O’Neil moved to California and worked as a model and as a secretary at a talent agency. Her breakthrough came in the early 1970s, when she was discovered by Hal Needham, a prominent Hollywood stunt coordinator. Needham recognized O’Neil’s natural talent and recruited her to work on several films, including “The Bionic Woman,” “Smokey and the Bandit II,” and “The Blues Brothers.”
Stunt Career: Over the course of her career, O’Neil performed stunts in more than 100 films and television shows. She was known for her ability to perform complex and dangerous stunts, including high falls, car crashes, and fire burns. In 1976, she set a world record for the longest and highest free fall by a woman, when she jumped from a helicopter at a height of 12,000 feet and reached a speed of 614 miles per hour.
O’Neil’s most famous stunt came in 1979, when she doubled for actress Lindsay Wagner in an episode of “The Bionic Woman.” In the episode, titled “The Deadly Missiles,” O’Neil drove a rocket-powered vehicle that was designed to break the land speed record. She reached a speed of 510 miles per hour, becoming the fastest woman driver in history.
Racing Career: In addition to her stunt work, O’Neil was also a professional race car driver and speed record holder. She began racing in the mid-1970s, and quickly gained a reputation as a skilled and fearless driver. In 1976, she set a women’s land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats, when she reached a speed of 512 miles per hour in a rocket-powered vehicle.
O’Neil continued to break records throughout the 1970s and 1980s, setting speed records in boats, motorcycles, and cars. She also competed in several off-road racing events, and won the SCORE International Off-Road Championship in 1982.
Legacy: Kitty O’Neil’s career was marked by her incredible talent, her unwavering courage, and her determination to overcome the obstacles that stood in her way. She broke down barriers for women, for people with disabilities, and for anyone who has ever been told that they can’t achieve their dreams. O’Neil passed away in 2018, but her legacy lives on in the countless lives she touched and inspired.
Kitty O’Neil was a true trailblazer, who defied the odds and made history in the worlds of stunts and racing. Her story is a testament to the power of passion, perseverance, and determination, and serves as an inspiration