Google Doodle honours Kitty O’Neil — legendary stunt driver and racer

Today marks the 77th birth anniversary of deaf American stuntwoman and actor Kitty O’Neil, who was once considered the ‘fastest woman in the world’

Updated - March 24, 2023 09:19 am IST

Published - March 24, 2023 08:12 am IST

Google on Friday celebrated the 77th birth anniversary of the legendary stuntwoman and actor Kitty O’Neil with a doodle depicting her in a yellow jumpsuit. The American, who was deaf since childhood, went on to become one of Hollywood’s most recognised stunt drivers.

O’Neil was also a racer and held the women’s absolute land speed record until 2019. In 1976, she drove a hydrogen peroxide-powered three-wheeled rocket car, which reached an average speed of 825.127 kmph, with a top speed of 999 kmph. The achievement garnered her the tag of the “fastest woman in the world”.

O’Neil was born in 1946 in Texas. When she was just a few months old, she contracted multiple diseases which left her deaf.

“My mother pushed me to read lips,” she told People magazine in 1977, “but she didn’t push me in sports – I did that myself.”

As a teenager, she started off as a diver, winning Amateur Athletic Union diving championships, training with the famous diving coach Sammy Lee. But before the trials for the 1964 Olympics, she broke her wrist and contracted spinal meningitis, threatening her ability to walk. She would soon quit diving, but remained intent on continuing as a pro athlete.

When she set the women’s land speed record in 1976, she set her eyes on the men’s record too. But her sponsors would not allow her to break the overall record as it threatened the status quo — they wanted to reserve the feat for a male driver.

O’Neil performed as a stunt double in several movies and shows, most notably in the 1979 episode of the Wonder Woman TV series, in which she set a women’s high-fall record of 127 feet (39 m), which she would later break.

A biopic about O’Neil’s life, titled Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story, was released in 1979, essaying her land speed achievement.

O’Neil died in 2018 of pneumonia in South Dakota at age 72. In 2019, she received the Oscars in Memoriam award.

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