Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Kitty O’Neil Biographical Timeline

Smiling woman in a yellow racing suit sitting in a racecar

Kitty O’Neil in a racecar made by Ky Michaelson. Image credit: Ky Michaelson.

March 24, 1946

Kitty O’Neil is born. She loses her hearing as a child after a combination of childhood illnesses. Her mother teaches her to lip-read rather than use sign language.

March 24, 1946
1958

At the age of 12, O’Neil joins a swim team.

1958
1962

O’Neil trains with diving coach Sammy Lee, the first Asian American man to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States.

1962
1964

Before the trials for the Olympics, O’Neil breaks her wrist and contracts spinal meningitis, ending her diving career abruptly.

1964
1970

O’Neil takes up racing on water — setting the official women's water ski speed record, 104.85 mph — and on land, racing motorcycles and automobiles.

1970
Mid-1970s

She enters stunt work, training with Hal Needham, Duffy Hambleton and Dar Robinson.

Mid-1970s
PHOTO: Kitty O'Neil in the Mattel Rocket Car. Image credit: Ky Michaelson.
1976

O’Neil becomes one of the first women to perform with Stunts Unlimited, the leading stunt agency in Hollywood.

1976
December 6, 1976

O'Neil sets the land-speed record for female drivers. Driving in a three-wheeled rocket car called the SMI Motivator, she clocks an average of 512.71 mph. The record stood until 2019 when it was broken by “Mythbuster” Jessi Combs who, sadly, died in the attempt.

December 6, 1976
PHOTO: Kitty O'Neil Smiles and Waves at Union Grove. Image credit: Ky Michaelson
1977

O'Neil sets the women's record for speed on water of 275 mph.

1977
1977

In the Mojave Desert, O'Neil pilots a rocket dragster with an average speed of 279.5 mph. According to National Hot Rod Association rules, since the run was not repeated, it is not recognized as an official drag racing record.

1977
PHOTO: Kitty O'Neil starting to race in the El Mirage Desert. Image credit: Ky Michaelson.
1978

Mattel releases a Barbie doll action figure of Kitty O’Neil.

1978
1979

While filming an episode of “Wonder Woman,” O’Neil is hired to perform a stunt of high difficulty while stepping in for Jeannie Epper, Lynda Carter's usual stunt double. O’Neil’s stunt establishes a new high-fall record when she takes a 127-foot (12 stories) plunge from the Valley Hilton rooftop in Sherman Oaks, CA into an inflatable air bag.

1979
PHOTO: Kitty O'Neil jumping off roof of 12-story building as Wonder Woman stunt double. Credit: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA
1979

O'Neil's experiences serve as the basis for a biographical movie, “Silent Victory: The Kitty O'Neil Story.”

1979
November 2, 2018

Kitty O'Neil dies at age 72.

November 2, 2018
2019

The 2019 Oscars In Memoriam segment includes a tribute to O'Neil.

2019
PHOTO: Kitty O'Neil's Handprints, Footprints, Signature, and Doll. Image credit: Joau Lee Grande.
SHARE

© 2021 WNET. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.