Kitty O’Neil, Pioneering ‘Wonder Woman’ Stuntwoman, Dies at 72

O’Neil was Lynda Carter’s double in “Wonder Woman”

Last Updated: November 5, 2018 @ 12:47 PM

Kitty O’Neil, Lynda Carter’s stunt double on the 1970s “Wonder Woman” TV series, died on Friday of pneumonia at the age of 72.

O’Neil broke ground for women in the stunt industry, becoming the first woman to join the Hollywood stunt agency Stunts Unlimited. O’Neil performed all her stunts despite losing her hearing after contracting multiple diseases shortly after birth, leading to a fever that destroyed her hearing and nearly killed her had her mother not placed her in an ice bath.

Despite this, O’Neil became a proficient cello and piano player and might have become an Olympic diver. Her career was cut short by a case of spinal meningitis incurred shortly before the Tokyo Olympic trials. Yet she recovered and became a stuntwoman, performing multiple stunts for “Wonder Woman” over the show’s three-season run. Her most famous stunt came during the final season in 1979 when she dressed up as the famed superhero and jumped nearly 13 stories out of a San Fernando Valley hotel and onto an airbag.

“If I hadn’t hit the center of the bag, I probably would have been killed,” she told The Washington Post.

O’Neil also did stunts for films like “The Blues Brothers” and “Smokey and the Bandit II,” where she drove cars and became the first woman to perform a cannon-fired car roll, in which an explosive wired under the car lifts it off its wheels and causes it to roll. She also piloted rocket-powered cars and boats, setting land speeds for women in both categories.

Her fastest speed was recorded in Oregon in December 1976, recording a land speed of 618 mph. That was just slightly short of the then men’s record of 630 mph, which O’Neil said she was confident she could break but was not allowed to because her mentor and famed stuntman Hal Needham was attempting the record as well. He failed to break it.

O’Neil retired from stunt work in 1982, leaving Hollywood and settling down in Eureka, South Dakota, where she lived for the remainder of her life. Her women’s land speed records still stand today.