Kitty O’Neil Biography, Age, Nationality, Physically Challenges, Occupation and Latter Years

Kitty Oneil Biography Age Nationality Physically Challenges Occupation And Latter Years

Kitty Linn O’Neil was an American stuntwoman and auto-racer, often called “the fastest woman in the world” for her various speed records. Her women’s absolute land speed record stood until 2019.

Profile Summary

Full Name Kitty Linn O’Neil
Date of Birth March 24, 1946

Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S
Died November 2, 2018 (aged 72)

Eureka, South Dakota, U.S.
Nationality American
Gender Female
Occupation(s) Stuntwoman, race car driver

Early Life of Kitty O’Neil

Kitty Linn O’Neil was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on March 24, 1946. 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 native Cherokee. At five months of age, O’Neil contracted simultaneous childhood diseases, losing her hearing. After her deafness became apparent at the age of two, her mother taught her lip-reading and speech, eventually becoming a speech therapist and co-founding a school for students with hearing impairment in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Kitty Oneil Biography Age Nationality Physically Challenges Occupation And Latter Years

Kitty O’Neil 

Racing And Career Path of Kitty O’Neil

By 1970, O’Neil had taken up racing on water and land, participating in the Baja 500 and Mint 400. She met stuntmen Hal Needham and Ron Hambleton while racing motorcycles, and lived with Hambleton, giving up racing for a time. In the mid-1970s, she entered stunt work, training with Needham, Hambleton and Dar Robinson. In 1976, she became the first woman to perform with Stunts Unlimited, the leading stunt agency. As a stuntwoman, she appeared in The Bionic Woman, Airport ’77, The Blues Brothers, Smokey and the Bandit II and other television and film productions. In 1978, her stunt career inspired a Kitty O’Neil action figure, made by Mattel.

In filming for a 1979 episode of Wonder Woman, O’Neil was hired to perform a stunt of high difficulty for Jeannie Epper, Lynda Carter’s usual stunt double. In the process, she set a women’s high-fall record of 127 feet (39 m) at the 12-story Valley Hilton in Sherman Oaks, California. She credited her small size, at 5′-2″ and 97 pounds (44 kg), for allowing her to withstand impact forces. She later broke her record with a 180-foot (55 m) fall from a helicopter. In 1977, O’Neil set a women’s record for speed on water of 275 miles per hour (443 km/h), and she held a 1970 women’s water skiing record of 104.85 miles per hour (168.74 km/h).

As a teenager, Kitty became a competitive 10-meter platform diver and 3-meter springboard diver, winning Amateur Athletic Union diving championships. She trained beginning in 1964 with diving coach Sammy Lee. Before the trials for the 1964 Olympics, she broke her wrist and contracted spinal meningitis, threatening her ability to walk and ending her contention for a position on the Olympic diving team. She competed in 100m backstroke and 100m freestyle swimming at the 1965 Summer Deaflympics. After recovering from meningitis, she lost interest in diving, and turned to water skiing, scuba diving, skydiving and hang gliding, stating that diving “wasn’t scary enough for me”. In her late 30s, she underwent two treatments for cancer.

Kitty O’Neil’s Latter Years and Valor Before Her Death

In 1977 in the Mojave Desert, O’Neil piloted a hydrogen peroxide-powered rocket dragster built by Ky Michaelson with an average speed of 279.5 mph (449.8 km/h). Since the run was not repeated according to NHRA rules, it is not recognized as an official drag racing record.

In 1979, O’Neil’s experiences served as the basis for a biographical film, Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story, starring Stockard Channing. O’Neil commented that about half of the film was an accurate depiction.

O’Neil stepped away from stunt and speed work in 1982 after stunt colleagues were killed while performing. She moved to Minneapolis with Michaelson, and eventually moved to Eureka, South Dakota, with Raymond Wald. When she retired, O’Neil had set 22 speed records on land and water.

She died on November 2, 2018, of pneumonia in Eureka, South Dakota, at age 72. In 2019, she was featured in the Oscars’ In Memoriam segment.


An illness in early childhood left her deaf, and more illnesses in early adulthood cut short a career in competitive diving. O’Neil subsequently moved into car racing and became a pioneering woman in the stunt industry in Hollywood. She appeared in numerous television and film projects, lent her likeness to an action figure, was honored at the 91st Academy Awards, and in March 2023 with a Doodle in the Google search
On March 24, 2023, Google celebrated O’Neil’s posthumous 77th birthday with a doodle.