Man on Wire Philippe Petit still risks it all at 73
March 23, 2023 02:23 PM
Almost 50 years after his famed tight-rope walk between the Twin Towers in New York, Philippe Petit still has his head in the clouds.
Clad in an orange shirt and red suspenders, the 73-year-old French native peers across the vast lobby of a Washington museum, the site of his next exploit.
Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a short red string.
"Sometimes I stop and say, 'It would be nice to put a wire there,'" he told AFP, showing how he holds it out at arm's length to get a sense of the set up.
"This little rope, for me, it helps me to dream of crossings."
Even at his advanced age, Petit still plans to make the walk without safety net or harness.
At 50 feet (15 meters), his high-wire act in Washington will be at a much lower height than the 1,350-foot World Trade Center skyscrapers -- but the risk of death certainly remains.
He'll step out onto the wire Thursday evening -- this time with permission -- above a watchful gala audience in the National Building Museum's voluminous central hall.
He began prepping for the event years in advance. Next to where the cable is anchored to a wall, lies a thick notebook containing hundreds of detailed sketches and calculations.
"I will never retire," says the energetic septuagenarian.
"I have a lot of projects up my sleeve."
- 'Life of passion' -
Petit says he keeps plans for possible tight-rope locations -- "extraordinary places... canyons, icebergs and incredible buildings" -- stored in a box at his home in New York state, where he has lived for decades.
From childhood, "I started not following the lead of authority," he said, describing how he climbed everywhere -- on kitchen chairs, in the trees.
"And then one fine day, quite naturally, I put a rope between two trees."
A feature film, "The Walk" starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the Oscar-winning documentary "Man on Wire" tell the historic story of his 1974 crossing, under the wide eyes of New York pedestrians and police.
Tired of being reduced to those few minutes, he prefers to bring up other moments from his "life of passion".
"Two performances are never the same... each time is an adventure where I learn, where I discover," he says in front of the wooden beams, pulleys and measurement tools that will support his aerial stroll Thursday night.
"With my 50-55 years of experience, I am more in control," says the veteran daredevil.