How Nik Wallenda’s Grandfather Karl Wallenda Died

Nik Wallenda

Getty Mr. T(L) and Nik Wallenda attend Mr. T And Nik Wallenda Celebrate National Amazing Month.

Karl Wallenda, Nik Wallenda’s great-grandfather, fell to his death while walking on a high wire strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 22, 1978.

At the time of his death, Wallenda was 73 years old. He was the founder and leader of The Flying Wallendas, a troupe of circus performers known for their dangerous stunts. The German-born performer died while walking a tight rope between two high rise buildings. He fell from the rope while trying to regain his balance, hitting a parked taxi, then the street below, at which point he died.

Here’s what we know about Karl Wallenda, Nic Wallenda’s great-grandfather:


A Live Video Shows Karl Wallenda Falling to His Death

Karl Wallenda – Grand Father of Stuntman Nik Wallenda completes tightrope walk across Niagara FallsKarl Wallenda High Tight Rope Walker Falls To His Death 1978, Karl Wallenda completed his last tight rope walk, but fell to his death caused by a sudden breeze2012-06-16T07:13:58.000Z

In the video, the older Wallenda is struggling to regain his balance as he walks across a tight rope between the two towers of the Condado Plaza hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The video shows him as he falls 10 stories, landing on the street below.

The moments leading up to his death were captured on live television and was widely publicized due to the fact that the performer was known for his dangerous stunts. He attempted to regain his balance for 30 seconds before he fell, reported All That’s Interesting.


The Original Coverage of the Fall Describes His Last Moments

“The only place I feel alive is on the wire,” says Karl Wallenda as reported by ABC News in 1978, the day of his death.

The commentator said, “the idea was to perform a circus act that he was promoting with his granddaughter, so, a high wire walk across the street from one beach-front hotel to another. As he reached halfway, the ocean winds picked up, gusting to 30 knots. And Karl Wallenda, the best man on a high wire, fought for his balance … Two hundred people saw Wallenda fall. Many rushed to help, but it was too late. Wallenda’s body struck a parked taxi. He was dead on arrival at the hospital,” said the ABC reporter who covered the event.


The Flying Wallendas Are A Family of Funambulists

Nik Wallenda

Nik Wallenda walks the tightrope during Mt. T and Nik Wallenda Celebrate National Amazing Month.

A funambulist is a tight rope walker. The Wallendas trace their roots to 1780 Austria-Hungary, where their ancestors were traveling acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, animal trainers and trapeze artists, reported CBS News.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that John Ringling of the Ringling Bros., and Barnum & Bailey Circus recruited the Wallendas after seeing them perform in Cuba. In 1928, the family gave its first performance at Madison Square Garden, receiving a 15-minute standing ovation from the audience, who watched them perform without a safety net.

The signature performance was “The Flying Wallendas”, a seven-person chair pyramid. In this stunt, two pairs of performers walk on the wire, each supporting another aerialist on a pole. Those two aerialists, in turn, carry a pole upon which the seventh member of the troupe sits in a chair, The Mercury reports.

The chair pyramid went terribly wrong in 1962 when a misstep at the State Fair Coliseum in Detroit caused two men to fall  to their deaths and paralyzed a third performer.

READ NEXT: Read more about Nik Wallenda.