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Wonder Woman stunt star and real-life daredevil Kitty O’Neil passes away

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Nov 5, 2018, 4:46 PM EST

Famed Wonder Woman TV stunt double and genuine real-life daredevil Kitty O’Neil reportedly passed away over the weekend in her post-retirement adopted hometown of Eureka, South Dakota. 

O’Neil, who served as Lynda Carter’s stunt double in the late 1970s on the Wonder Woman set, was known throughout Hollywood for her daring nature — whether in the service of screen entertainment or to push record-shattering boundaries. A hearing-impaired actor who relied on her other sharpened senses to negotiate a stunt career, she told The Washington Post in 1979: “I know I'm deaf. But I'm still normal. The way I look at it, being handicapped is not a defect. People say I can't do anything. I say to people I can do anything I want.”

As Carter’s Wonder Woman stand-in, O’Neil famously leapt from a 13-story building onto an inflated air cushion for a practical 1979 stunt, glibly telling the Post afterward, “If I hadn't hit the center of the bag, I probably would have been killed.” She later topped that feat by jumping a reported 180 feet from a helicopter.

In addition to her TV stint on Wonder Woman, O’Neil served as a stunt actor for big-studio shows and movies until her 1982 retirement, including Airport 1975Damien: Omen IIFoul PlayThe Blues Brothers, Smokey and the Bandit II, and The Bionic Woman as Lindsay Wagner’s stand-in.

Other stunt highlights from O’Neil’s career include being set on fire (in the 1977 drama September 30, 1955), as well as becoming the first female to perform an explosion-enhanced car roll. But offscreen, her work was even more daring. She set the female land speed record in 1976 by maintaining an average speed of 512.71 mph inside a specialty-fueled three-wheeled vehicle in Oregon’s Alvord Desert.

A Texas native who entered the stunt world as a swimming diver and eventual car racer for Hal Needham’s racing team, O’Neil went on to set numerous top speed records on the water, including a world record for women's water skiing and another for boating.

Born Kitty Linn O’Neil in 1946 in Corpus Christi, Texas, O’Neil reportedly died of pneumonia on Nov. 2. She was 72 years old.