The Wallenda family has been making headlines for nearly a century. The Barnum & Bailey Circus hired the Flying Wallendas in 1928 after seeing them in Cuba. And their inaugural show at Madison Square Gardens received a standing ovation after the family performed without a safety net.
It had been lost in transit. Unfortunately, that became the standard by which they would forever be judged.\
And over the years, their increasingly death-defying stunts without that net took their toll. In 1962, a seven-person chair pyramid collapsed, killing two and paralyzing one. One family member fell to her death in 1968 and another was electrocuted on the rigging in 1972.
In 1978, at the age of 78, family patriarch, Karl, fell to his death during a promotional walk between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel in Puerto Rico. However, great-grandson, Nik, continued the family legacy by completing that walk in 2011.
Since then, Nik Wallenda has continued to promote the family brand. While other aerial performers battled bureaucracies for years, Nik Wallenda secured permits to cross Niagara Falls and The Grand Canyon. He’s walked blindfolded and even hung from a helicopter using only his toes.
However, luck hasn’t always been his. A 2017 rehearsal of the troupe's eight-person pyramid high-wire act for a new Guinness World Record for height almost ended in tragedy. The pyramid collapsed and five performers fell. Fortunately, everyone survived.
Yet Nik continues to break records and try new feats. And that included a recent 30-minute walk across a live volcano on an ABC Special.
For this evening stroll, Nik faced gas fumes, extreme heat and high winds – not to mention what has to be going through his head when he steps onto that wire. Consequently, he wore goggles to protect his eyes (so he could see), a respirator against the noxious gases (so he could breathe), and a harness (so ABC didn’t accidentally air a death scene on live TV).
Despite the harness being a legal requirement from the network, it didn’t sit well with many viewers. Social media was flooded with complaints that the harness meant Wallenda “cheated.” Some even called him a “fraud.”
A fraud? The earlier Wallendas still had a chance of survival if they fell. Albeit in a wheelchair with a feeding tube. But still a chance.
Internet trolls ignored the fact that Nik was walking above a roiling lava lake measuring 700 to 1200 degrees Celsius. A fall meant certain death. His body would have liquefied.
Yes, it’s Wallenda’s job to push the limits. That doesn’t mean he should give his life if a mistake is made.
We’re usually horrified by news stories of people dying on the job. After all, a paycheque shouldn’t be a death sentence. Yet social media condemns this guy and ABC for ensuring his safety?
Besides, did you want to risk your children seeing a man die in a lake of molten lava?
If that’s the standard for entertainment today, humanity is truly lost.