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Kitty O’Neil (1946–2018), pioneering deaf Hollywood stuntwoman

by Kirk Fox

Legendary daredevil set the land speed record for female drivers.


Kitty O’Neil, a Hollywood stuntwoman, race car driver, and Olympic-level diver, performed many death-defying feats during her lifetime. In 1976 she set the land speed record for women, reaching an average speed of 512.71 miles per hour during two runs while driving a hydrogen-peroxide fueled three-wheeled rocket car in the Alvord Desert in Oregon.  

On water, O’Neil set the water skiing speed record and drove a boat at 275 miles per hour. A world-class diver, O’Neil was expected to compete for a medal at the 1964 Olympics but injuries and illness caused her to miss the games.


O’Neil may be best known for her work in Hollywood. As a stunt performer, she appeared in movies “The Blues Brothers” and “Smokey and the Bandit II” and on television in 1970s classics “The Bionic Woman” and “Wonder Woman.”

All of it she accomplished without being able to hear. O’Neil was deaf. After contracting smallpox as an infant and losing her hearing, she was taught by her mother to read lips.

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Died: Friday, November 2, 2018 (Who else died November 2?)

Details of death: Died from pneumonia in Eureka, South Dakota, at the age of 72, her friend and former stuntman Ky Michaelson told the Hollywood Reporter.

Is there someone you miss whose memory should be honored? Here are some ways.

Legendary Stunt: For an episode of “Wonder Woman,” O’Neil jumped off the roof of a Hilton Hotel with her arms spread out, falling a record 127 feet onto an inflatable bag. She told The Washington Post, “If I hadn’t hit the center of the bag, I probably would have been killed.”

Notable Quote: “I know I’m deaf. But I’m still normal. The way I look at it, being handicapped is not a defect. People say I can’t do anything. I say to people I can do anything I want.” —Interview with the Washington Post

What people said about her: “She was a wonder woman, a true wonder woman. She crashed one of my cars at over 300 mph and walked away. . . The only bone she ever broke was in a hand one time when she was racing motorcycles.” —Ky Michaelson in an interview with the Washington Post

On Screen: Stockard Channing portrayed O’Neil in the movie, “Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story.”

Full obituary: Washington Post

Birthdate: March 24, 1946 (Who else was born on March 24th?)

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