The reason stunts are so exciting is because there’s always the possibility of something going horribly wrong. Most spectators are hoping the person completes the stunt, but there is always a small part of us (which we don’t like to admit exists) that’s morbidly curious about witnessing disaster. It’s the same reason we all slow down to look at a car wreck. To help with that slight desire for bloodlust, please check out the ten videos on this list.
10. Kristen Johnson
Halftime shows at most professional sporting events are mildly entertaining at best. After all, do you think the team owner wants you glued to your seat during an intermission? Or do they want you buying stuff at the food and merchandise stands? Actually, now that we think about it, they probably purposely book lame American Idol runner-ups to encourage you to move around.
Well, the spectators at a Detroit Pistons game in January 2009 who stayed in their seats for the halftime show got to see something pretty unforgettable when professional escape artist Kristen Johnson performed her dangerous and oh-so-pleasant sounding Water Torture Cell Escape. On that day, Johnson was submerged in the water filled tank with her hands and feet shackled. As the crowd, which included children, watched on, Johnson managed to free her hands and feet, but then after about two minutes and 50 seconds she started to struggle and lost consciousness. Seeing she was in trouble, her assistant unlocked the chamber and pulled Johnson to the surface. Unsure if they had just watched a woman drown, the crowd looked on in horror. Luckily, after a few seconds Johnson raised her hand, showing that she was alive. The crowd cheered and then proceeded to watch the Pistons die on the court and lose. Johnson had no lasting impact from her brush with death and continued to do the escape at other shows, though presumably with more success.
9. Michael “The Great Moodini” Mooney
If there was an award for “WTF was that guy thinking?” Michael Mooney of Calhoun, Georgia, would certainly be a top contender. In June 2011, Mooney, who goes by the somewhat misleading name of “The Great Moodini,” was performing a stunt in front of a crowd at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. The stunt involved Mooney trying to escape from shackles while blindfolded, which seems complicated enough, right? However, since this was a big gig at the Speedway, Mooney wanted to make it more exciting, so he chained his wrist shackles to the back of a Camaro that would take off after a three second countdown. Mooney, who apparently didn’t understand how time and speed work, also didn’t think he needed a head start, so the car took off at the same time as he started to try to pick the locks on his shackles.
Predictably, everything went horribly wrong less than two seconds after the stunt started. Mooney was forced to do a cartwheel, flipping on to his head, before landing hard on the ground. He lost consciousness and when he woke up, he said everything hurt and he was crying. He ended up breaking his wrists, some fingers, and his clavicle.
Mooney was taken to the hospital, and frankly was lucky to have survived both death and paralysis. He vowed to return to stunts, but didn’t explain why he would even consider it. We’re guessing, at the time, his head injury and some strong pain medication were doing a lot of the talking for him.
8. Bill Shirk
One of the most frightening ways to die is to be buried alive. This is probably why the most famous escape artist of all time, Harry Houdini, thought it would make for a good escape act. But when he tried it in 1915, it almost killed him. He was buried in six feet of dirt and only his hand managed to reach the surface. His unconscious body was then pulled out from the dirt.
Ever since Houdini’s failed attempt, a number of people have tried to escape from being buried alive, but few have succeeded. Even then, it is arguable that the “escapees” possibly used some sort of trick or illusion, because according to some experiments, it does not appear possible that someone can be buried alive and dig themselves out.
One of the most notable attempts to try to outdo Houdini was performed by radio broadcaster and escape artist Bill Shirk. In 1992, in Indianapolis, Shirk decided to up the danger factor by not only being buried under dirt, but cement as well. One of the problems with using cement is that it starts to harden below the surface first, meaning the cement closest to him would dry quicker than the rest. But digging himself out through hardening cement wasn’t the biggest problem Shirk faced. No, the real danger was that his Plexiglas coffin wasn’t strong enough to support the weight of six tons of dirt and cement. After the cement was poured, the coffin shattered, and the dirt and cement poured into the coffin where Bill laid shackled.
Luckily, Shirk was pulled out and survived, unlike another escape artist, 32-year-old Joe Burrus, who was killed performing the same stunt two years prior.
7. Junior Delgado
The Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil is known throughout the world for their breathtaking and gravity-defying stunts. Adding to the danger of the stunts is that during live shows, the performers do their stunts without nets. The organization and the performers say they go through rigorous practice and take safety very seriously. However, since people can slip while stepping out of the bathtub or even just trip over their own two feet while walking on a smooth surface, Cirque du Soleil isn’t without its share of accidents.
The video above was taken from their production “Zarkana,” in Las Vegas, in November 2013. The performer, Junior Delgado, was atop the ominous sounding “Wheel of Death” when the apparatus shifted and the long-time performer fell face first to the ground, landing with a sickening thud.
Delgado was taken to the hospital and later that night logged onto Facebook to confirm he had survived the frightening fall. He had a successful surgery on his leg and the injuries didn’t seem too serious. He is lucky, because that same week, Cirque du Soleil had been fined $25,000 over safety violations stemming from an accident in June 2013, where 31-year-old Sarah Guillot-Guyard died after falling 94 feet.
6. Oleksie Pinko
In October 2010, the “City of Lions” circus was putting on a show at an arena in Lviv, Ukraine. During the show, lion trainer Oleksie Pinko was doing a stunt that involved him being in an enclosed area with five full grown male African lions. After getting two of them to do some tricks, one of them lunged at Pinko and another joined in. Using a steel rod, Pinko fought them back and helpers sprayed the lions with water.
Pinko didn’t back down, forcing the pack of male lions up against the fence by poking and hitting them with the rod. That’s when they decided to team up on Pinko and attack him. At this point, much of the audience, which was separated from the lions by a thin layer of mesh, started to flee the arena. Pinko was taken to the hospital with a bite on his arm and given emergency surgery, but he ultimately survived the attack.
With most people on this list, we don’t think they deserve what they got (although some of them should have probably been smarter about their choices), but we think if you hit lions with steel rods and get attacked, well, you might have had that coming.
5. Spencer Horsman
Escape illusionist Spencer Horsman first gained national recognition in 2012, when he appeared on season seven of America’s Got Talent. While Horsman was eliminated after week three, the show helped launch his career, and in 2015, he was opening for Criss Angel.
In June, the 29-year-old escapist was rehearsing for the show, specifically a Water Torture Cell Escape. In Horsman’s version of the trick, he is shackled with chains, and locked in a water filled cage that hangs thirty feet above the ground. During the rehearsal, Horsman lost consciousness before he could escape. His crew was forced to lower him and break him out. Luckily, he recovered from the near-fatal accident. However, that wasn’t the only time that Horsman nearly drowned while performing the stunt.
In September 2015, Horsman was performing the same stunt in front of a crowd outside the New Jersey State Theater. Again, he lost consciousness and his crew was forced to pull his limp body from the tank. He was revived at the scene and kept repeating “I’m fine,” which is exactly what people say when things are decidedly not fine. He was taken to the hospital where he recovered and is still doing shows.
Hopefully after these two incidents, Horsman either cut the Water Torture Cell Escape from his act or got significantly better at performing it. After all, isn’t drowning twice approximately two too many times to experience drowning in a lifetime?
4. Jesus “Half Animal” Villa
We’re not exactly daredevils ourselves, but, to a certain degree, we can understand the appeal of performing and surviving a dangerous stunt. With that being said, we have absolutely no clue why anyone would want to jump head first into multiple panes of tempered glass, like Jesus “Half Animal” Villa attempted to do in July 2013.
Villa, who holds six Guinness World Records and is a former performer with Cirque du Soleil, was performing the stunt for a television show in Las Vegas. To set a new Guinness World Record, while wearing some safety equipment and using a trampoline, he was going to jump head first through 10 panes of tempered glass, which is four times stronger than traditional glass. The stunt was an immediate disaster when Villa dove at the glass and didn’t pass through it like he planned. Instead, he was launched backwards, and then the glass shattered over him. The audience and the hosts laughed, as we’re sure a lot of people did while watching the video, but Villa broke his neck in 12 places and spent several months in the hospital.
After the accident, Villa set up a crowdsourcing page that is currently looking for donations for his medical bills and to help launch his comeback.
3. Fred Osborne
In 1926, aviator and stuntman Fred Osborne had an idea for a stunt that was as simple as it was badass. He was going to drive a motorcycle over a cliff in Santa Monica, California, and then parachute to safety. Unfortunately, only half the stunt went right for Osborne. As you can probably guess based on how the rest of these stunts have gone, that was the “driving over the cliff” part.
After driving over the cliff, Osborne pulled the cord of the parachute but it didn’t deploy properly, and Osborne and the bike plummeted 500 feet to the ground below. Miraculously, Osborne survived the plunge because telegraph and telephone wires broke his fall.
2. Samuel Koch
On December 5, 2010, around 10 million people tuned in to catch the German television show Wetten, Dass? (Want to Bet?). The show is very popular in Germany, and has been on the air for more than 30 years. The premise of the show is that the host challenges people to do difficult, often harmless tasks in front of a panel of celebrities. If they complete it, they win money.
On that day, 23-year-old Samuel Koch appeared on the show and was challenged to jump over five moving cars using spring-loaded footwear called kangaroo shoes. The stunt was going fine until the fourth car. When Koch attempted to jump over the car, one of the shoes malfunction and Koch didn’t get the height he needed. He hit the windshield, which caused him to land head first on the hard studio floor.
The audience and the hosts were shocked, and the broadcast was immediately pulled from the air. If the accident wasn’t tragic enough, Koch’s father was the one driving the car. Koch was taken to the hospital, where he had two surgeries, and was in a coma for 10 days. While Koch was wearing a helmet, the crash broke vertebrae in his neck and left the young man paralyzed.
After the accident, Koch wrote a bestselling book, works as an actor, and as an activist for spinal cord research.
1. Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel
You didn’t think we could have gotten through this list without talking about the ultimate stuntman, did you? After all, Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel holds the Guinness World Record for most broken bones suffered in a lifetime, having broken over 433 of them over the span of 10 years. Uh…congratulations?
To break all those bones, Knievel endured a number of serious crashes. His most famous one was his first serious crash, which happened on New Year’s Eve, 1967, when he tried to jump 151 feet over the fountain at Caesars Palace. He jumped the right distance, but crashed on the landing. He stayed in the hospital for nearly a month with 40 broken bones, including broken ribs, hips, and a crushed pelvis.
Knievel finally quit jumping in 1977, after crashing during a practice jump at the Chicago Amphitheater. Knievel was planning on jumping over a tank filled with 13 sharks and while practicing, he went off the landing ramp and hit a cameraman. As a result of the accident, the cameraman lost an eye. It was the first time that someone other than Knievel was hurt during one of his stunts.
Knievel died at the age of 69 after years of being in frail health, which included diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which is an incurable lung condition.