10 of the Most Dangerous Circus Acts Performed Today

Flying Wallendas
Nik Wallenda continues the family tradition by walking on a high wire over Newark, New Jersey. © Patti Sapone/Star Ledger/Corbis

It's time to dive (ahem) into an aerial act that is so very dangerous that it's actually proven injurious — and even fatal — to several different generations. The famous Flying Wallendas, a circus family that traces its entertainment roots to 1780 Austria-Hungary, have been simultaneously entertaining and scaring the snot out of crowds for centuries. They get the No. 1 spot because of the sheer history of their act and the tragedies that have followed it.

So a little background: The Wallendas have traditionally been both an aerial and wire-walking act, and their big showstopper was the seven-person chair pyramid. Two pairs of performers wire walk while holding poles that hold two more aerialists. Those aerialists hold a pole that a chair balances on, where another performer (naturally) balances [source: Wallenda].

Unfortunately, a 1962 accident on the seven-person pyramid killed two performers and paralyzed one. In a separate accident, a Wallenda sister-in-law also fell to her death in an aerial performance. Karl Wallenda, the family patriarch, also died from a fall during a stunt [source: CBS]. But the acts are still performed today: Nik Wallenda completed a wire-walk across the Grand Canyon in 2013 [source: Nik Wallenda]. Ta da, indeed.

Author's Note: 10 of the Most Dangerous Circus Acts Performed Today

After researching this list, I have decided I am not running off to join the circus.

Related Articles


  • Alfano, Sean. "Trapeze Artist Dies During Calif. Circus." CBS News. May 1, 2007. (April 30, 2015) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/trapeze-artist-dies-during-calif-circus/
  • Animal Defenders International. "Danger of wild animal circus acts highlighted by damage caused by escaped elephants." March 25, 2014. (April 30, 2015) http://www.ad-international.org/animals_in_entertainment/go.php?id=3585&ssi=10
  • Buteau, Walt. "Clip breaks in circus accident, officials seek cause." WPRI. May 5, 2014. (April 30, 2015) http://wpri.com/2014/05/05/authorities-clamp-snapped-in-circus-accident/
  • Cave, James. "Remembering Tyke, Rebellious Circus Elephant, And Her Tragic Death." Huffington Post. August 19, 2014. (April 30, 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/19/tyke-elephant-honolulu-circus_n_5689932.html
  • CBS News. "The rich, tragic history of daredevil Wallendas." June 15, 2012. (April 30, 2015) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-rich-tragic-history-of-daredevil-wallendas/
  • Davis, Janet M. "A Bittersweet Bow for the Elephant." The New York Times. March 7, 2015. (April 30, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/opinion/sunday/ringling-brothers-will-retire-its-elephants-and-an-american-tradition.html
  • Demon Drome. "Wall of Death." 2015. (April 30, 2015) http://www.demondrome.com/about.html
  • Entertainment Tonight. "Roy Horn Reveals Shocking Info on Tiger Attack from 11 Years Ago." July 17, 2014. (April 30, 2015) http://www.etonline.com/news/148564_roy_horn_reveals_shocking_info_on_tiger_attack_from_11_years_ago/
  • Furness, Hannah. "Sword swallower performs act again after cutting throat open." The Telegraph. May 14, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/opera/10830548/Sword-swallower-performs-act-again-after-cutting-throat-open.html
  • Gallacher, Stevie. "In his own words: Our reporter vs Cirque Berserk's Globe of Terror." The Sunday Post. Jan. 30, 2015. (April 30, 2015) http://www.sundaypost.com/tv-showbiz/music-theatre/in-his-own-words-our-reporter-vs-cirque-berserk-s-globe-of-terror-1.816737
  • GTspirit. "Video Of The Day: Diamond Maruti Car Circus Wall of Death." (April 30, 2015) http://www.gtspirit.com/2010/03/25/video-of-the-day-diamond-maruti-car-circus-wall-of-death/
  • Huze, Cyril. "Death of Samantha Morgan of 'The Wall Of Death.'" Cyril Huze Post. May 9, 2008. (April 30, 2015) http://cyrilhuzeblog.com/2008/05/09/death-of-samantha-morgan-of-%E2%80%9Cthe-wall-of-death%E2%80%9D/
  • Johnson, M. Alex. "Motorcyclists Injured in 'Globe of Death' Circus Performance in Washington." NBC News. April 5, 2015. (April 30, 2015) http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/motorcyclists-injured-globe-death-circus-performance-washington-n336141
  • Lee, Jennifer 8. "Should Circus Elephants Be Banned?" The New York Times. (April 30, 2015) http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/26/should-circus-elephants-be-banned/
  • Nik Wallenda: Never Give Up! "Nik Wallenda: King of the High Wire." http://nikwallenda.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11&Itemid=109
  • O'Connor, Maureen. "The Sword Swallower Who Tore His Esophagus with a Neon Lightbulb and Kept Performing." Gawker. Jan. 13, 2012. (April 30, 2015) http://gawker.com/5875853/the-sword-swallower-who-tore-his-esophagus-with-a-neon-lightbulb-and-kept-performing
  • PBS. "Danger in the Circus." (April 30, 2015) http://www.pbs.org/opb/circus/in-the-ring/danger-circus/
  • Pilgrim, Alastair. "The Safety Lines." The Trapeze Net. (April 30, 2015) http://www.flying-trapeze.com/The-Physics-of-Flying-Trapeze/the-safety-lines.html
  • Poon, Linda. "Beware of Big Cats." National Geographic. March 8, 2013. (April 30, 2015) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/03/130308-cats-killer-lions-tigers-victims-petting-zoos-siegfried-and-roy/
  • Popular Mechanics Magazine. "Circus Daredevils." July 1934. (April 30, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=LeADAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA44&lpg=PA44&dq=most+dangerous+equestrian+circus+act&source=bl&ots=N5tGMEqqTg&sig=elD-ZHv_SU-35cx8i7xEBf0ZT7c&hl=en&sa=X&ei=dQdAVeGrFZLGogSA-YDACQ&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=most%20dangerous%20equestrian%20circus%20act&f=false
  • Rivlin-Nadler, Max. "Watch This Trapeze Artist Survive an 85-foot Fall." Gawker. April 18, 2013. (April 30, 2015) http://gawker.com/5995030/watch-this-trapeze-artist-survive-an-85-foot-fall
  • Robbins, Jim. "Defying Death (See: Wall of) to Make a Living." The New York Times. August 20, 2006. (April 30, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/fashion/20samantha.html?pagewanted=all
  • Speaight, George. "A History Of The Circus." Tantivy Press. 1980. (April 30, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=DG5OAAAAYAAJ&q=inauthor:%22George+Speaight%22&dq=inauthor:%22George+Speaight%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Gr9CVdrCJ5G4oQSQnoCwBw&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAw
  • The Jordan World Circus. "Urias Globe of Death Trivia." (April 30, 2015) http://www.thejordanworldcircus.com/images/The_Original_Globe_of_Death_BioR.pdf
  • The New York Times. "Fearful Tragedy." Jan. 20, 1872. (April 30, 2015) http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9B0CE6DD1739EF34BC4851DFB7668389669FDE
  • The New York Times. "Restive 'Little' Elephants Lead Big Stampede of 42 in Washington." May 25, 1956. (April 30, 2015) http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=9D01E3DC1F3CE03BBC4D51DFB366838D649EDE
  • The New York Times. "Why Not Retire the Circus Elephants Now?" March 6, 2015. (April 30, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/07/opinion/why-not-retire-the-circus-elephants-now.html
  • The Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "Circus performer injured in fall." Feb. 13, 1997. (April 30, 2015) https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19970213&id=VIsfAAAAIBAJ&sjid=J30EAAAAIBAJ&pg=1798,2701978&hl=en
  • Wadler, Joyce. "Despite a Paralyzing Accident, Family's High-Wire Act Goes On." The New York Times. March 20, 1997. (April 30, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/20/nyregion/despite-a-paralyzing-accident-family-s-high-wire-act-goes-on.html?pagewanted=1
  • Wallenda, Tino. "Wallenda's history." The Flying Wallendas. (April 30, 2015) http://www.wallenda.com/index.php/wallendas-history
  • Witcombe, Brian and Dan Meyer. "Sword swallowing and its side effects." The British Medical Journal. Dec. 21, 2006. (April 30, 2015) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1761150/


Is the 'Lovely Assistant' the Real Magician?

Is the 'Lovely Assistant' the Real Magician?

HowStuffWorks looks at the history of magician's assistants, what they do and why the assistant is usually a woman.