AARP Eye Center
Philippe Petit walked between the tops of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center at age 24, a feat that inspired the Oscar-winning 2008 documentary Man on Wire and the 2015 Joseph Gordon-Levitt film The Walk. Now 73, he did his wire-walking act March 23 in the great hall of the Washington, DC, National Building Museum, 50 feet above its famous indoor fountain, triumphantly exclaiming, “Nothing is impossible!” The event, a benefit for the museum’s exhibition “Building Stories,” was cosponsored by AARP. Before his performance, Petit talked to AARP about what he’s learned at his age, and breaks the news of his forthcoming autobiography.
You used to bounce up and down on the wire, which you don’t do anymore — but isn’t it rather dangerous to walk on a wire at 73?
When I was young I did all kinds of crazy things. But after 55 years and probably 100 performances I can do what I want on the wire.
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So aging has an upside.
I don’t know aging, I don’t feel it. I think I’m getting younger every year. There are more possibilities. I have more creativity and imagination, and my art profits from a lifetime. Yes, I have limits, my body is not 18 years old, but when I was 18 I was a rebel and ambitious and trying to prove. Well, I’m still a rebel and ambitious, but I have nothing to prove. I am more in command. I edit, like a writer, I go to the essentials. I choose my words, I choose my movement, and I think my art is more powerful and rich at my age. I don’t see age as at all as a limitation. I don’t care about age. I will never use the word — uh, how do you say when you stop working?
Retire! Why do people retire?
Do you think there’s a metaphorical lesson in your art for people who have no intention of walking on wires? Is there a kind of balance that people must strike in life?
Balance is very useful in life, like bread and water. Balance should be taught in school. Balance enriches your mind and your body and your life, and I have little tips for you. When you put your socks on in the morning, don’t sit on the edge of the bed, that’s ridiculous. Stand up and put your socks [demonstrates putting sock on one foot while standing on the other]. If you face a corner, your balance is not great. But if you face a wall, you have a reference, and fix an imaginary point on the floor. Now you can put on your socks and you don’t wobble. You need some practice, of course. People say, “Oh wow, I do that in the morning and I feel good!”
We’re all on a tight-wire as we get older, and falling can be a dangerous thing.
Yes, yes, yes. Start your day in equilibrium. Don’t have your breakfast like this [slouches], stand up parallel, straight and then you are directing your body to start the day in balance, in equilibrium, and you’re gonna feel better. I look at fashion magazines, the models are slouching. It drives me crazy. Balance makes you stay younger in body and mind, and that’s my way of life.