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Top five famous driving stuntmen

CGI was once heralded as the end of stuntmen in films. But as a thirst for realism has increased, so has films branded as ‘real’, complete with working stuntmen. Here are five of our favourites.

Hal Needham

Born in 1931, this kid from Memphis went on to serve as paratrooper in the Korean War, work as a tree topper and try his hand as a billboard model before settling on his true passion: driving stunt work.

“When I came in, Westerns were the big thing, so I did horse falls, transfers, bulldogs, big fights. That’s where you could really shine if you were really good at it. But then all the Westerns stopped, and I was capable of doing car stunts, motorcycle stunts and high falls. I could do it all. I worked every day. I never turned down a stunt,” he told Hollywood Reporter.

During his career Hal broke 56 bones (including his back!), dislocated his shoulder, lost several teeth and once even punctured a lung. Ouch!

Evel Knievel

No list would be complete without Robert Craig AKA Evel Knievel. Known for his daring motorcycle stunts, he was one of the most brazen stuntmen on a bike.

Evel spent the 60s and 70s completing many dangerous jumps. He wanted to jump the Grand Canyon but was refused by the government. Memorably, he tried to jump the Snake River Canyon courtesy of a rocket-powered motorcycle. It didn’t go to plan. Luckily for him his crashes were as popular as his successes. The price of all this? The world record for the most broken bones in one lifetime: 433!

Evel didn’t do much stunt work for films, but some of his great jumps were inspired by films. Jaws inspired his jump over the live shark tank. He also used his own money to produce a film of his Caesars' jump, of which he eventually sold the rights to ABC-TV .

The Armstrong Family

You might not have heard of them, but it’s very likely a member of the family was in the latest film you watched! For almost 30 years the Armstrong Family have been behind a host of action flicks from Mission: Impossible to James Bond!

It all started with Vic Armstrong, who has doubled for multiple Bonds and Harrison Ford. He met Wendy Leech on the Superman 2 sent when she was doubling as Lois Lane. A match made in stunt heaven.  The couple’s children also work in stunts: recently Scott Armstrong drove a truck at 55mph through a bus in The Green Hornet!

The couple, along with their children, have formed Armstrong Action where they bring realism to action films through stunt work.

Michelle Yeoh

You will probably remember Michelle from her role in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, but whilst she wanted to perform her own stunts in his 007 flick, the director reportedly banned it for insurance reasons.

She’s been in ‘Crouching Tiger’, ‘Hidden Dragon’ and ‘Sunshine’. You might also know her from her incredibly motorcycle stunts in ‘Supercop’, where she and Jackie Chan matched each other stunt for stunt. Chan was so impressed with her that she is reportedly the only woman Chan has allowed to perform stunts on his films.

Bill Hickman

Born in 1921, Bill was a stunt driver from the 50s through to the late 70s. He completed stunt work for a whole host of films, but some of his best known car chases can be seen in: Bullitt, The Seven-Ups and The French Connection, all of which are filmed on real city streets.

Bullitt, in particular, stands out. The 1968 classic saw Bill chase alongside Steve McQueen using the hilly streets of San Francisco as jumps. He can be seen buckling his seat belt up before charging off, a very nice touch! There was a close call when Bill lost control and knocked into a camera, fortunately it was only fixed to a parked car. The chase ends with Bill’s Charger spinning off into a petrol station that consequentially erupts into a huge ball of flames! 

Offbeat  07/08/2015 09:32:42

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