Who was Kitty O’Neil? Google Doodle celebrates stunt woman
Kitty O’Neil, an American stunt woman who broke a number of speed records, is celebrated in today’s Google Doodle on what would have been her 77th birthday.
The doodle, which depicts O’Neil jumping out of a helicopter and driving a racecar, was illustrated by deaf guest artist Meeya Tjiang.
O’Neil was deaf since a childhood illness but referred to her deafness as an asset, not a roadblock.
It did not prevent her from leading a thrilling career as a stunt woman, who appeared in several movies and completed death-defying stunts.
Who was Kitty O’Neil?
Kitty O’Neil was born on this day in 1946 in Corpus Christi, Texas, to a Cherokee Native American mother and an Irish father.
As a baby, she contracted multiple diseases which ultimately left her deaf. She learned to communicate in other ways but preferred speaking and lip reading.
The first sport O’Neil took an interest in was diving, but a wrist injury and illness meant she could no longer compete. But this didn’t hold her back, and she looked to other sports.
O’Neil experimented with water skiing and motorcycle racing and performed stunts such as jumping out of helicopters.
Her stunt work led to her being featured in films and TV shows including The Bionic Woman (1976), Wonder Woman (1977-1979), and The Blues Brothers (1980). She was the first woman to join Stunts Unlimited, an organisation for Hollywood’s top stunt performers.
In 1976, she drove across the Alvord Desert at 512.76 miles per hour, breaking the women’s land-speed record by nearly 200mph. Although she was declared the “fastest woman alive”, she was prevented from breaking the overall record, which sponsors thought should be held by a man.
Legal action failed and O’Neil wasn’t allowed to break the overall record, which many people at the time believed she would have done.
Nevertheless, O’Neill went on to pilot jet-powered boats and rocket dragsters, breaking several other records as she did.
A biopic about O’Neil’s life, titled Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story, was released in 1979 and recaps the impressive Alvord Desert feat. She died in 2018 at the age of 72.
Google Doodle says: “Thank you for inspiring us all to race towards our dreams, Kitty!”