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High-Wire Act Honors French Rights of Man

August 27, 1989|From a Times Staff Writer

PARIS — Never faltering despite a gusting 13-m.p.h. wind at his back, Frenchman Philippe Petit realized a long-held dream Saturday by walking across the River Seine on a tightrope to the second level of the Eiffel Tower, 330 feet above the ground.

Petit's lofty walk of nearly half a mile on a cool afternoon was the most spectacular of several events in France on Saturday commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, adopted by the National Assembly on Aug. 26, 1789, and considered by many the most lasting achievement of the French Revolution.

As thousands watched from the river banks, tourist boats and bridges below, Petit, 40, his hair bleached blond for the occasion, paused several times to wave before delivering a rolled-up copy of the declaration to Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac, waiting on a platform on the Eiffel Tower.

At one point, Petit, who had previously made illicit tightrope walks between the World Trade Center towers in New York and the twin towers of Notre Dame Cathedral here, dramatically stripped off a silver lame costume to reveal a rainbow-hued body suit.

Characteristically, at a press conference after his 45-minute walk on specially degreased steel cable, Petit dismissed the danger of the effort.

"Now I plan to sleep 20 hours. Have a good meal and drink some good wine," said the wiry, 5-foot-7-inch funambulist, who lives in New York. His next effort: the Grand Canyon next June.

The only thing close to a fall came at the reception as Petit was being interviewed by reporters and well-wishers on the stage 6 feet above the floor. But with cat-like quickness, Petit whirled in time to save his 2 year-old nephew, Leo, from tumbling off the stage.

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