Last Surviving Child of Karl Wallenda Dead at 85

Carla Wallenda kept up with her death-defying work until age 81
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 8, 2021 1:17 AM CST
Member of 'The Flying Wallendas' Dead at 85
Carla Wallenda has no fear of flying in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on July 16, 1982.   (AP Photo, file)

Carla Wallenda, a member of “The Flying Wallendas” high-wire act and the last surviving child of the famed troupe's founder, has died at the age of 85, the AP reports. Her son, Rick Wallenda, said on social media she died Saturday in Sarasota, Fla., of natural causes. She was the daughter of Karl Wallenda, who had founded the troupe in Germany before moving to the United States in 1928 to great acclaim. She was the aunt of aerialist Nik Wallenda. Carla Wallenda was born on Feb. 13, 1936, and appeared in a newsreel in 1939 as she learned how to walk the wire, with her father and mother, Mati, looking on. But she said her first time on the wire was much earlier. “Actually, they carried me across the wire when I was 6 weeks old,” she said in a 2017 interview with a Sarasota TV station. “My father rode the bicycle and my mother sat on his shoulders, holding me and introducing me to the public.”

She spent her younger years traveling the country as her father's troupe performed in the Ringling Bros. circus. She had a brother, Mario, and a sister, Jenny—all performed in the act. She began appearing in the family's show in 1947, but not on the high wire at first, according to her biography on the family's website. In 1951, her father told her she could join the high-wire act if she could do a headstand on top of the family's seven-person pyramid. She was able to join the high-wire act later that year. She left the family act in 1961 to form her own troupe. The next season, two of the Wallendas were killed in an accident while performing the pyramid. Her brother was paralyzed. Wallenda rejoined the family troupe in 1965, replacing an aunt who died doing a solo act. Her husband, Richard Guzman, died in 1972 when he fell 60 feet during a performance in West Virginia. Her father died in 1978, falling while walking a wire across a street in Puerto Rico. Still, she would not be deterred from performing. She worked through her 70s, including in a Miley Cyrus music video, retiring at age 81.

(More obituary stories.)

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