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Philippe  Petit

Philippe Petit

Motivational Speaker & High Wire Artist


Philippe Petit, universal poet laureate of the high wire, was born in France and took his first steps on the wire at age 16. He learned everything by himself while being expelled from five different schools. Performing on five continents, he taught himself Spanish, German, Russian, and English, and developed a keen appreciation for architecture and engineering. Using his wire to extend the boundaries of theater, music, writing, poetry and drawing, he has become an inimitable high wire artist. Read More >

On August 7, 1974, Petit overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges to achieve the artistic crime of the century. A daring idea originating from an article about the Twin Towers at the dentist’s office, Petit walked a high wire illegally stretched between the rooftops of the World Trade Center. Making eight crossings over the course of an hour, a quarter mile above the sidewalks of New York, Petit’s book, To Reach the Clouds (re-titled Man on Wire in paperback), recounts that adventure. His spellbinding act was also the basis of the 2009 Academy Award-wining documentary film, Man on Wire, as well as the 2015 feature film, The Walk, to be directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit.

Petit’s latest book, Creativity: The Perfect Crime, is a new manifesto on the creative process from a master of the impossible, revealing new and unconventional ways of going about the artistic endeavor. His other book, Why Knot? How to Tie More than Sixty Ingenious, Useful, Beautiful, Life-Saving, and Secure Knots! was released in April 2013.

In the nearly 40 years since the World Trade Center walk, Petit has performed on the high wire more than 100 times around the world in such locations as Paris, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Jerusalem and New York City where he has been an artist-in-residence at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine for more than 30 years.

Petit is the recipient of the first Action Maverick Award; the New York Historical Society Award; the prestigious James Parks Morton Interfaith Award; and the Byrdcliffe Award. He is a laureate of the Foundation de la Vocation par Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, and the French Ministry of Culture bestowed upon him the title of Chevalier des Arts & des Lettres. Petit was a featured speaker at the 2012 TED Conference.

Petit’s new high wire project is the Rapa Nui Walk, a walk on an inclined cable set on Easter Island in homage to the Rapa Nui and their giant stone statues known as Moai. Among his most cherished goals is the continuation of his first series of high wire master classes, Tightrope! An Exploration into the Theatre of Balance.

In addition to walking the high wire, Philippe Petit writes, draws, performs close-up magic, practices lock-picking and 18th century timber framing, plays chess, studies French wine and was recently sighted bullfighting in Peru. An internationally known speaker and hard at work on a new one-man stage show titled Wireless! Philippe Petit Down to Earth, he gives lectures and workshops on creativity and motivation.

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Speaker Videos

TEDTalk: The Journey Across the High Wire

Speech Topics

An Evening with Philippe Petit

Philippe Petit just came up with a new format of the classic quasi-theatrical lecture with props and re-enactments that he has presented over the past few years... Read More >

It is —as he describes it— “Simpler, freer, more down to earth and more directly aimed at the people in the room. I reduced the number of props and I replaced some of the rehearsed monologues and demonstrations by total improvisation involving the audience all the way to the end.”

He still begins with how he learned by himself magic, juggling and the high-wire, but after addressing the World Trade Center walk, he suddenly turns to the audience and asks questions!

From there on, without abandoning the frequent returns to the drawing board to sketch or write, Philippe’s presentation becomes an energetic exchange fed by his amazing life. If need be Philippe will still use a prop or mime a short scene— but there is no structure, no strings attached: imagine a Q&A that does not feel like a series of answers, but rather like an illustrated stream of free associations.

Just returning from an engagement in Florida, Philippe received his first reaction to the new format: “I’ve seen your lecture last year and it was great. But tonight, it was five times better. You were with us every second, celebrating life.” Read Less ^

Creativity: The Perfect Crime

Since well before his epic 1974 walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, Philippe Petit had become an artist who answered first and foremost to the demands of his craft — not only on the high wire, but also as a magician, street juggler, visual artist and writer. A born rebel like many creative people, his outlaw sensibility has spawned a unique approach to the creative process, making him an inspiration to all who dare to dream of the seemingly impossible.


Inviting others to enter into the experience of creating, Petit discloses, with characteristic enthusiasm, irreverence and originality, new and unconventional ways of going about the artistic endeavor. From generating and shaping ideas to practicing and problem-solving to pulling off the “coup” itself, the strategies and insights Petit shares will resonate with performers of every stripe and also with seemingly non-creative people in search of fresh ways of tackling the challenges and possibilities of everyday existence. Get a glimpse into the remarkable mind of someone who accomplishes creativity by thinking and doing differently than others.

Walk. Don't Walk: The Life of Philippe Petit

Philippe Petit is renown as a master story-teller. It helps that all his tales are true and hand-picked extemporaneously from a very rich life of mostly self-taught creativity.  Read More >

During the course of a single lecture, Philippe will recall (while making sketches) how he learned the wire the wrong way: by gathering several ropes together to make it as wide as possible! He will mime how an unscrupulous juggler sold him misaligned clubs proved “impossible to juggle”. Philippe might reenact a pickpocket experience from his youth, or share a bullfighting secret from the time he was a torero apprentice.

You will laugh when Philippe recalls the “festival of miracles” that had the audience in Israel mistook him for an accomplished dove trainer: by accident, the dove he was presenting on the high-wire decided to land on his head!

You will tremble at the survival evocation of the time when Philippe slid out of control on the ice of Niagara Falls, until a tiny reflex saved his life.

You will marvel at how the sacred statues of Easter Island “walked” to their erecting sites— as Philippe guides a small Moai replica across his lecture table. And you will ponder at the impossible task of making that first step on the wire between the Twin Towers when Philippe relives it on stage in front of you. 

Philippe has stories about solving problems elegantly, about conquering your worst fears, learning from your mistakes, pursuing perfection and the importance of believing in myths and magic.

It is the unique nature of those stories and the intensity and enthusiasm with which they are delivered that makes Philippe’s lectures be often mistaken for a one-man show! Read Less ^

On the High Wire: An Unusual Approach to Risk Management

Sharpening the Mind: The Intellectual Risk & Architecture of Rebellion

Don’t Be Afraid: Creativity, Tenacity, Motivation & the Pursuit of Excellence

Creativity for the Fanatic: A Confession by an Outlaw

Nuts For Knots: A Rigging "Teach & Tell"