Kitty O'Neil

Kitty O'Neil

Kitty O'Neil
Quick Facts About Kitty O'Neil
Celebrated Name Kitty O'Neil
Age 78 years old
Nick Name Kitty
Birth Name Kitty Linn O'Neil
Birth Date 1946-03-24
Gender Female
Profession Stuntwoman
Birth Nation USA
Nationality American
Ethnicity American-White
Religion Christian
Place of Birth Corpus Christi, Texas
Father John O'Neil
Mother Patsy Compton O'Neil
Horoscope Aries
Marital Status Married
Sexual Orientation Straight
Husband Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton
Net Worth $1.2 million
Source of Wealth Stunt Career
Weight 44 Kg
Height 5 feet 2 inches
Eye Color Brown
Hair Color Brown
Death Date November 2, 2018
Cause of Death Pneumonia

Kitty O'Neil was an accomplished American stuntwoman, actress and racer, renowned for her incredible speed and daredevil antics. Despite being left deaf by an illness in her childhood, she refused to let this hold her back and instead channeled her energies into becoming a world-class athlete. Although her early career in competitive diving was cut short by illness, she went on to become one of the most respected stuntwomen of her generation. Her remarkable achievements were recognized in a television movie about her life and through her depiction as an action figure. She set numerous speed records during her career, including the women's absolute land speed record, which stood for over three decades. Despite facing many challenges, her fearless spirit and determination inspired countless people throughout her life. She remains an inspiration to those who seek to overcome adversity and push the limits of what is possible. O'Neil's legacy continues to live on through the countless individuals who have been inspired by her courage and tenacity. She died on November 2, 2018, of pneumonia in Eureka, South Dakota, at age 72. On March 24, 2023, Google celebrated Kitty O'Neil's posthumous 77th birthday with a doodle. 

Who was Kitty O'Neil?

Known as "the fastest woman in the world," Kitty O'Neil was an American stuntwoman and racer. She became deaf due to an illness during childhood, and her promising career in competitive diving was cut short by several illnesses during early adulthood. However, she found success in her career as a stuntwoman and race driver, leading to her being portrayed in a television movie and as an action figure. O'Neil's record as the fastest woman on land remained unbroken until 2019.

Kitty O'Neil was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, on March 24, 1946. Kitty Linn O'Neil was her birth name. She was American when it came to her nationality was American-White. John O'Neil, her father, was an officer in the United States Army Air Forces, who had been an oil wildcatter. He died in an airplane crash during Kitty's childhood. Her mother, Patsy Compton O'Neil, was a native Cherokee. When Kitty Linn O'Neil was just five months old, she fell ill with several childhood diseases at the same time, which resulted in her losing her hearing. By the time she turned two, her deafness became evident, and her mother took on the task of teaching her lip-reading and speech. In time, her mother became a speech therapist and, together with others, founded a school for students with hearing impairment in Wichita Falls, Texas. As a teenager, Kitty won several Amateur Athletic Union diving championships, training with Sammy Lee from 1962. However, she missed the opportunity to compete in the 1964 Olympics due to a wrist injury and spinal meningitis. She later competed in swimming at the 1965 Summer Deaflympics. After recovering from meningitis, Kitty lost interest in diving and turned to other extreme sports, such as water skiing, scuba diving, skydiving, and hang gliding. In her late 20s, she underwent two cancer treatments. For the last time, Killy celebrated her 72nd birthday in 2018. 

Kitty O'Neil began racing on water and land in the early 1970s, participating in events such as the Baja 500 and Mint 400. In the mid-1970s, she transitioned into stunt work, receiving training from Hal Needham, Hambleton, and Dar Robinson. By 1976, she had become the first woman to work with Stunts Unlimited, the leading stunt agency, and appeared in various film and television productions such as "The Bionic Woman", "Airport '77", and "The Blues Brothers". Her stunt work was so impressive that Mattel created a Kitty O'Neil action figure in the year 1978.

In 1977, Kitty set a women's water speed record of 275 miles per hour (443 km/h), and in 1979, she set a women's high-fall record of 127 feet (39 m) while filming for an episode of "Wonder Woman". She credited her small size and weight for her ability to withstand the impact forces from falls. Kitty continued to break records, later setting a new high-fall record of 180 feet (55 m) from a helicopter. Kitty O'Neil made history on 6 December 1976 when she set the land-speed record for female drivers in southeastern Oregon's Alvord Desert. She drove a hydrogen peroxide-powered three-wheeled rocket car called the "SMI Motivator," built by Bill Fredrick, which cost $350,000 (equivalent to $1.7 million in 2021). The car reached an average speed of 512.710 mph (825.127 km/h) and a peak speed of 621 miles per hour (999 km/h). O'Neil estimated that she could have exceeded 700 miles per hour (1,100 km/h) with full power, but her runs reportedly used only 60% of the available thrust.

Her contract restrained her from breaking only the women's land speed record and allowed Hal Needham to set the overall record. However, she exceeded the limit and faced legal issues with sponsors who were preparing a Hal Needham action figure. A legal effort by O'Neil and Hambleton to allow her another attempt failed, and the sponsors received negative publicity for removing O'Neil from the car. In 1977, O'Neil drove a hydrogen peroxide-powered rocket dragster in the Mojave Desert, reaching an average speed of 279.5 mph (449.8 km/h). However, the run was not repeated according to NHRA rules, so it is not recognized as an official drag racing record. In 1982, she retired from stunt and speed work after colleagues were killed during performances. She moved to Minneapolis with Ky Michaelson and later to Eureka, South Dakota, with Raymond Wald. By the time of her retirement, O'Neil had set 22-speed records on both land and water.

How did Kitty O'Neil die?

Kitty O'Neil, the accomplished stuntwoman and athlete, passed away on November 2, 2018, at the age of 72 due to pneumonia in Eureka, South Dakota. Her death was mourned by many in the entertainment industry and the sports world, as she had been a trailblazer in both fields. Her contributions to Hollywood and her achievements as an athlete were widely recognized, and her life story inspired many.

On March 24, 2023, Google commemorated what would have been Kitty O'Neil's 77th birthday with a special Google Doodle. The Doodle featured an animated drawing of O'Neil in action, performing one of her famous stunts, with the Google logo prominently displayed in the background. The Doodle was created to celebrate her legacy as an athlete and stuntwoman and to honor her memory as a true inspiration to all those who face adversity.

Who was Kitty O'Neill married to?

Kitty O'Neill was married twice during her lifetime. Her first marriage was to Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton, who was a bank executive turned stunt performer. They got married in the 1970s and had two children together before ultimately getting divorced. Despite the end of their marriage, Kitty and Duffy remained friends and continued to work together on stunt projects. After her divorce from Duffy, Kitty went on to marry again, but this marriage also ended in divorce. While she had several other relationships throughout her life, not much is known about her other boyfriends or romantic partners. Despite her private personal life, Kitty will always be remembered for her groundbreaking achievements as a stunt performer, and her impact on the world of stunts will continue to inspire generations to come.

How much is Kitty O'Neil's net worth?

Kitty O'Neill had a highly successful career as a stunt performer, race car driver, and actress, which allowed her to amass a considerable amount of wealth. Her net worth was estimated to be around $1.2 million at the time of her death. Her income came from various sources, including her work as a stunt performer, which earned her an estimated $20,000 per project, and her racing career, which brought in around $50,000. Additionally, she also appeared in several television shows and movies, which contributed to her overall net worth. Despite her considerable wealth, Kitty remained humble and dedicated to her craft, and her legacy as a groundbreaking stunt performer will continue to inspire generations to come. 

How tall was Kitty O'Neil?

Kitty O'Neil was a remarkable woman who achieved many incredible feats during her lifetime. Standing at a height of 5 feet 2 inches and weighing around 44 kilograms, she was a force to be reckoned with. Her hair color was brown and her eye color was also brown. She was particularly known for her prowess in the world of stunt performing, where she set a number of records that still stand to this day. Despite being deaf, she managed to overcome all obstacles and become a true inspiration to many.

5 Facts About Kitty O'Neil

1. Kitty O'Neil set the land-speed record for female drivers in 1976

On December 6, 1976, O'Neil drove a hydrogen peroxide-powered three-wheeled rocket car called the "SMI Motivator" and achieved an average speed of 512.710 mph (825.127 km/h). This record still stands as the fastest land-speed record for a woman.

2. She was contracted to break only the women's land speed record

While attempting to break the land-speed record, O'Neil was contracted to only break the women's land-speed record and was obligated to allow Hal Needham to set the overall record. Her contract stated that she was not supposed to exceed 400 miles per hour (640 km/h). Needham's sponsor, a toy company called Marvin Glass and Associates, obtained an injunction to stop further runs by O'Neil.

3. She was a deaf stuntwoman and racer

She suffered from an illness in early childhood that left her deaf, but she did not let that hold her back. She went on to have a successful career as a stuntwoman and race driver.

4. Her experiences served as the basis for a biographical movie

In 1979, a biographical movie called Silent Victory: The Kitty O'Neil Story was made, starring Stockard Channing. O'Neil commented that about half of the movie was an accurate depiction of her life.

5. O'Neil set 22-speed records on land and water

Throughout her career as a stuntwoman and race driver, O'Neil set a total of 22-speed records on both land and water. She retired from stunt and speed work in 1982 after her colleagues were killed while performing. She eventually moved to Eureka, South Dakota, where she passed away in 2018.