10 Greatest Daredevils of All Time – Don’t Try This At Home!

Alain Robert, the french spiderman

These are the greatest daredevils of our times. From jumping buses to getting shot with cannonballs, nothing these guys do is short of extraordinary.

Most of the adrenaline-fueled activities we practice and watch today owe there beginnings to the stunts these men have performed.

At the end of the day, the title of best daredevil goes to the man or woman who gets our blood-pumping the most, so who’s your favorite daredevil?

Evel Knievel

Evel Knievel daredevil stunt

Always on a bike, always adorned with tassels, and always getting into trouble, Evel Knievel, as much a part of the American ethos as American Pie, is a fascinating case study as much because of what he did right as what he did wrong.

First entering the daredevil biz in 1966, Knievel didn’t gain national recognition until 1967 when he jumped Caesar Palace’s fountain on New Year’s Eve. After a failed landing, he spent 29 days in a coma. In many ways, that first flawed foray into the national spotlight would be representative of the rest of his time there.

Throughout his career and despite his many great successes, Knievel’s unrelenting desire to push the envelope farther than it was meant to be pushed ultimately resulted in numerous botched stunts and resulting serious health afflictions.

Off the bike, he was a hothead and spendthrift who spent time in jail for assault and, despite reportedly earning many millions of dollars over the course of his career, declared bankruptcy in 1981.

Moral of the story: even adventurers need to function in society, so be as good at living life as you are skilled at tempting death…and maybe consider slowing down after you spend 29 days of your life in a coma.  Just a suggestion, dudes.

Chuck Yeager

Chuck Yeager - Daredevil

Chuck Yeager was born on February 13th, 1923 in West Virginia. For most of his life, he was a pilot and a great one at that.

He was raised by farmers and had two brothers and two sisters. His first encounter with an aircraft wasn’t until he had finished high school and went to military school.

At first, he was a plane mechanic. Nobody could anticipate how good of a pilot he would be, so they wouldn’t even give him a chance.

However, when World War II broke out, the recruitment policies changed. Chuck was then able to start his training. As it turned out, Chuck had impeccable vision and observation skills. After realizing how good he was, the Air Force quickly named him captain.

After the war had passed, Chuck became a test pilot for the Air Force. During this period, he would break plenty of speed records, one of which was his most famous one. In October 1947 Chuck went 700 mph and broke the ‘sound barrier’.

Chuck Yeager would do things that nobody dared to do. He is a war hero, a role model, and most importantly – our number 2 favorite daredevil.

Travis Pastrana

Travis Pastrana - Daredevil

Travis Pastrana is a professional stuntman and motocross, supercross and rally race competitor.

He was born on October 8th, 1983. At the age of only 13, he was already doing motocross and stunts. So far, he has won three motocross championships and gained a giant fanbase.

Although he was doing quite well in motocross, his favorite sport was freestyle motocross. Freestyle allowed him to go crazy with his stunts. He won the first ever MotoX Freestyle competition hosted by X Games. He would go on to compete at this event every single year, 16 years in a row.

Aside from motorcycling, Pastrana also loved rally racing. He was successful at this sport, as well, winning a couple of gold medals and even beating Colin McRae.

As if that weren’t enough, Pastrana was an incredible stuntman, too. One of his most insane stunts was jumping over the Caesar Palace fountain in his car. He also broke a couple of Evel Knievel’s records.

Even though he suffered quite a few injuries throughout his career, Travis Pastrana doesn’t plan on backing down any time soon.

Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan stunt

Jackie Chan probably has the richest biography out of all the daredevils on the list. He’s known as an actor, martial artist, stuntman, producer, film director, and even a singer!

Born on April 7th, 1954, Chan was an energetic child, which is why his parents nicknamed him Pao-pao, a.k.a a cannonball.

He wasn’t very good in school, so he went on to study acting at the drama academy. During this period, he would also train martial arts. He excelled in everything he did. By the end of his schooling, he acquired the black belt and also landed a couple of movie roles.

His first films weren’t that big of a success. However, the 1978 Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow was a big hit. In this movie, he had the opportunity to create his own stunts, which he couldn’t do in his previous movies. That’s when everyone realized how talented he is.

Jackie Chan is a legend in both the East and the West. Since the 60s, he has starred in over 150 movies and performed his own stunts in all of them.

Philippe Petit

Philippe Petit - Daredevil

Philippe Petit is a person that cannot be described in one word, nor sentence. Essentially, he is a man that had tried and succeeded in everything.

He was born in France on August 13th, 1949. As a young boy, he loved magic tricks and juggling. He was only 16 when he tried his hand (or foot) at high-wire walking. In addition, he quickly learned all the dangerous high-wire tricks by himself.

One night in June 1971, Petit sneaked onto the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and set up a wire between the two towers. The next day, he performed on it as the crowd below cheered him on.

He did the same thing with the Twin Towers in New York, just three years after the Paris stunt.

Believe it or not, Petit had been planning this New York stunt for 6 whole years, before the towers were even built.

After the fact, he did a couple of similar stunts and collaborated with the circus and some other artists such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Sting.

Philippe Petit was also good at equestrianism, bullfighting, rock climbing, and fencing. His amazing life and courage inspired plenty of movies and documentaries.

Tanner Foust

Tanner Foust Quantum Drifter

Mostly known as the host of the American version of Top Gear, Tanner Foust is a legend in the racing world.

He was born on June 13th, 1973. As a child, he lived in Scotland briefly. There he learned how to drive and practiced frequently on the country roads. Upon his return to the US, Foust went on to get a degree in biology. However, this was not his true passion. During college and some time after, he worked as a helper around the race tracks and also as a driving coach.

He slowly went on to become a professional race car driver. In 2003, he officially moved to California to be a stuntman. Because he was so good at driving, he quickly blew up. Soon he would become a stunt driver for almost all of the Hollywood movies at that time. These include Need for Speed movies, the Fast and the Furious, Iron Man 2, and so on.

When it comes to his racing career, Foust was successful there, too. He received plenty of gold and silver medals and won against some of the best racers in the world.

Larry Walters

Larry Walters - lawn chair pilot

Anyone who says regular Joes can’t be daredevils has never heard of truck driver turned balloon airship designer, Larry Walters.

Armed with little more than a patio chair, 45 helium-filled weather balloons (much larger than your average birthday variety), and a hunger for exploring the unknown.

Walters became the first person to ascend into controlled airspace using a piece of lawn furniture when, in 1982, he flew his homemade craft dubbed “Inspiration I” from his home in San Pedro, California to Los Angeles International airport, reaching an altitude of 15,000 feet.

Plagued by poor eye sight, Walters was unable to fulfill his dream of becoming a US Air Force pilot and this adventure, first conceived when he was a teenager, was his attempt at realizing his dream.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t totally thought through.

Walters planned on descending by shooting balloons with a pellet gun he carried aboard, but after dropping the gun overboard minutes after popping the first couple balloons, he found himself on a wayward journey he couldn’t quite control.

After 45 minutes in the air, he landed on a Long Beach power line, causing a temporary outage. Though Walter was immediately arrested upon landing (for flying in regulated airspace and other violations), he was reportedly unbroken by the course of events,  famously saying:  “A man can’t just sit around.”

His feat has been the subject of many television specials and documentary segments, one of which we’ve provided for you above. Enjoy, but, do us a favor and stick to airplanes.

Alain Robert

the French Spiderman

We’ve talked about Alain Robert, the french spiderman, before, and for good reason. This guy is crazy and cool and incredible enough to deserve multiple mentions. Robert first discovered his love of climbing while sneaking into his parents’ eighth-story apartment.

Now 50-years-old, he’s mounted some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, enduring imprisonment and risking death, without the wimpy assistance of harnesses or ropes. Throughout his long and storied career, he’s battled vertigo and fall-induced paralysis that’s rendered him more than 60 percent disabled.

Less showy than passionate, more a technician than a sideshow act, Robert’s daredevil persona seems more highbrow than the carnival community that bore so many of the freakishly talented cohorts.

If you find yourself contesting Robert’s spot on this prestigious (if we do say so ourselves) list, put yourself in his shoes and imagine looking down from thirty– nay fifty–stories in the air.

Imagine every one of your muscles is pushed to its limit, in spasm under the pressure of a relentless ascent. Imagine you’re all alone and one wrong move will end it all. Okay, stop shaking. Sorry. We were just trying to prove a point.

John Holtum

Holtum poster

While you may not know John Holtum’s name, we’re almost positive you’re familiar with his place in popular culture. Whether inspiring a Looney Toons cartoon or adorning the wall in a pictorial tribute to the American circus, the man who caught the cannonball with his bare stomach is something of an icon.

After a brief tenure training as a common circus-grade strongman in and around San Francisco in the late 1800s, Holtum returned to his native Europe to do the unthinkable.

After two years and some very serious injuries (including the loss of multiple fingers), he found a way to successfully catch a REAL cannonball…shot out of a REAL cannon, using only a pair of gloves and a chest pad to mute the force of the projectile’s impact.

Some believed the ball was lighter than normal or even hollow inside, but despite public doubt and a standing 3,000 franc offer Holtum made to anyone who would challenge him, no dissenter ever dared try the stunt Holtum so fearlessly pioneered.

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini doing stunts

German-born Harry Houdini (birth name Erik Weisz) is, arguably the world’s most renowned and celebrated magician, illusionist, stuntman, and daredevil. His name is synonymous with achieving what seems to be impossible.

Almost immediately after his family’s US arrival from Budapest in 1878, young Harry started making a name for himself, first as a trapeze artist then as a cross country runner.

But his big break came in Woodstock, Illinois when he met manager Martin Beck who, impressed with his handcuff escape act, began booking him on the vaudeville circuit. And the rest, as they say, is history.

From his Chinese Water Torture Cell stunt (where Houdini was submerged within a metal cage and locked within a larger cell) to his notorious Suspended Straight Jacket Escape, Houdini was as much an innovator as he was a madman.

Check out this video of his Handcuff Bridge Jump for proof. After all these years and all the daredevils who’ve succeeded him, Houdini may still take the cake. What do you think?

Here are some other amazing Daredevils that didn’t quite make the list:

  • Annie Edson Taylor
  • Joseph Kittinger
  • Robbie Knievel
  • Seth Enslow
  • Jeb Corliss
  • Felix Baumgartner

About the Author

Rick Coleman
Rick Coleman
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona Rick Coleman is a Lifeofadventure.com featured contributor who has written for a wide range of international travel publications. He loves the outdoors and has covered thousands of miles in the pursuit of his next adventure.
Rick Coleman
Rick Coleman
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona Rick Coleman is a Lifeofadventure.com featured contributor who has written for a wide range of international travel publications. He loves the outdoors and has covered thousands of miles in the pursuit of his next adventure.
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