Karl continued performing “Sky Walks,” walking between buildings and across stadiums, including Busch, Veterans, JFK, 3 Rivers Stadiums and the Astrodome, among others. His most famous walk was a 1200-foot long trek across the Tallulah Falls Gorge in Georgia, where 30,000 people watched as the 65-year-old legend performed two separate headstands at a height of over 700 feet in the air.
Sadly, during a high wire walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico in March 1978, Karl Wallenda, age 73, fell to his death. It was not because of his age, capabilities, or the wind that day, but because of bad rigging, a reason Nik Wallenda and his father always oversee every inch of rigging themselves.
Nik Wallenda was “performing” on a high wire before he was born; his mother, Delilah Wallenda, was still walking the high wire six months pregnant with him. Nik’s official first performance was in 1981 at age 2 as a tiny clown carried around in a pillow case. He also began walking the wire that same year but was not permitted to perform professionally on a high wire until age 13. In 2001, he set his first world record in Kurashiki, Japan for the 4 layer 8 person pyramid on a high wire.
On June 4, 2011, Nik Wallenda successfully completed the high wire walk in San Juan that his grandfather had never completed — a 135-foot-long high-wire crossing between the two towers of the ten-story Condado Plaza Hotel. Stunning the crowd, Wallenda’s mother, Delilah joined him on the high wire, mother and son starting at opposite ends. When Delilah reached the middle of the wire, roughly the spot Karl had fallen, she sat down on the wire and Nik stepped over her before the two continued to opposite ends of the wire. Before finishing, Nik knelt down on the wire and blew a kiss in honor of his great-grandfather’s memory.
After the feat, Wallenda said he was “not scared at all,” but admitted that the circumstances of Karl’s death had haunted him for years. “To be able to walk in his exact footsteps is an extremely huge honor, and I did this for him as much as I did it for my family to get some closure.” Perhaps not for everyone. Immediately after the Niagara Falls high wire walk, Nik phoned his grandmother, Karl Wallenda’s daughter who had told him she was too frightened to watch.
The Niagara Falls walk marked Nik Wallenda’s seventh world record, including one for the highest and longest bike ride on a wire which he performed from Newark, N.J. live on NBC’s Today Show October 15, 2008. The walk over the Grand Canyon added an 8th world record to his achievements.