Photos of Philippe Petit’s Twin Towers Tightrope Walk, 1974

Whether you take Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers as art, daredevilry, or madness, it’s hard to deny the awe it inspired. The French stuntman’s larger-than-life story has already made it to the big screen once, in the Oscar-winning 2008 documentary Man on Wire.

The elements of Petit’s most famous achievement are inherently dramatic, of course, in nearly every way. In Aug. 7, in 1974, he walked between the just-erected towers of the World Trade Center, performing acrobatic feats on an inch-thick cable 1,350 feet above the ground — without a safety net.

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Petit started wire-walking when he was 16. His friends were happy he was pursuing an exciting, unusual way of life. His family was more reserved and didn’t directly support or understand him.

“I read about the construction of the World Trade Center in a magazine in a dentist’s office. At that moment I decided I was going to walk between the towers. I remember every moment of that long quest, and every moment of the walk. Even 41 years later I have this strange ability to relive it almost instantly.

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“At the time, I didn’t think about the walk itself; in the eight months before it, I practised once, on a poorly rigged wire. My main focus was how to install a cable without permission. It was my dream and the closer I got to it the more I was compelled to do it, rather than feeling doubts.

“I arrived the afternoon of the day before, planning to go to the roof as it got dark and rig all night. But we were delayed, I in my tower and my friend in the other, for hours because we were hiding from guards. I was terrified of getting caught, and felt like the policeman was a foot away, waiting to pounce. We arrived on the roof three hours later than planned, and only had half the night to rig.

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