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Kitty O’Neil, Stuntwoman and Speed Racer, Is Dead at 72

Kitty O’Neil, Stuntwoman and Speed Racer, Is Dead at 72


In one stunt, as a double for Lindsay Wagner, she flipped a dune buggy on the television series “The Bionic Woman”; in another, she leapt 127 feet from a hotel balcony onto an inflated airbag as Lynda Carter’s stunt double on “Wonder Woman.”

Ms. O’Neil died on Friday at 72 in Eureka, S.D., where she had lived since 1993. The cause was pneumonia, said Ky Michaelson, a close friend who built rocket-powered vehicles, including some for Ms. O’Neil.

“She seemed never to have fear,” Mr. Michaelson said in a telephone interview. “I’d never say to her, ‘Kitty, are you scared?’ Not Kitty. But I’ve been in a car with her many times, and she scared the heck out of me. She was a pretty reckless driver.”

In 1978, Ms. O’Neil wrecked a rocket-fueled Corvette funny car while trying to set a quarter-mile speed record on a dry lake in the Mojave Desert, in El Mirage, Calif. She had pushed the car past 350 m.p.h. when it flipped, flying 200 yards in the air and landing on its nose. She had minor shoulder injuries. Later, she told reporters that she had tried to deploy a parachute, then thought, “Oh, Christ, it’s going to crash.”

But, she added, “I had a lot of fun.”

Kitty Linn O’Neil was born on March 24, 1946, in Corpus Christi, Tex. She was a few months old when a high fever caused by measles, mumps and smallpox destroyed nerves and led to her deafness. Her mother, Patsy (Compton) O’Neil, opened a school for the hearing-impaired after teaching Kitty to lip-read rather than use sign language. Her father, John, was an oil wildcatter who died when Kitty was young.



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