Petr Horák was born on May 7, 1943 in Nusle (Prague) to Štěpánka and Oldřich Horák. As a young boy, Peter swam competitively and played water polo. He enjoyed skiing, riding a bike, playing table tennis, ice hockey, and soccer. At the age of ten, however, the doctor forbade Peter to partake in anymore sports because, the doctors said he had a weak heart. Despite this ban, Peter did not stop sports and he continued to play. Soon, all of his health problems began to disappear and his heart healed. Today’s post shares Peter’s dream of going to America to be a stuntman and becoming known as the Czech man who fell from the sky!
Later in life, Peter recalled that his restless and adventurous soul manifested itself even when he was a young child. It was then that he became deeply interested in America, reading cowboys novels, travelogues and dreaming of living there one day.
In 1958, when he was just fifteen years old, he received his identity card. He lived in Teplice at the time. He was training in judo in the gym and with his friend Vašek , they began to plan their escape into Austria. In the frosty cold of early spring that year, with just a few cans and a tracksuit in his backpack, they agreed to meet at the Teplice railway station, but Vašek did not arrive. He must have gotten scared or changed his mind.
But Peter had a plan and was not about to give up. He was already on his way, so he continued through Prague to České Velenice. He arrived in the evening and walked to the border at night. Unfortunately, the border guard dog caught him and they sent for his father. His father had become a Communist shortly after the war. When he picked Peter up, he slapped him numerous times and scolded him for being a disgrace to him as a Communist. He was even kicked out of school because of this incident. Peter went to vocational school and studied to become a mechanical locksmith and welder, which came in handy for him later.
Peter was determined to go to America. In 1960,he tried to flee again. This time, he planned to cross the Danube River, but before he could jump into the water, he was once again arrested by the border patrol. This time they put him in jail, and once again his shamed and unhappy father had to come pick him up. Peter had to promise his parents that he would never try to escape across the border again. Peter focused on his judo and he got very good. He collected several medals and in 1962 he was of age to enter compulsory military service.
Peter was sent to Hranice na Moravě for two years where he served with rocket units. When he left the military, he returned to Teplice where he worked in a glassworks factory. He met his wife, got married, and soon after his daughter Simona was born.
On July 25, 1968 (shortly before the Soviet invasion) Peter was able to travel with Sparta Prague to Amsterdam to participate in a sports camp organized by the world judo champion Anton Geesink.
Despite having previous escape attempts on his record, he got permission to travel abroad. The guarantee was that he was married and had a one-year-old daughter at home.
When Peter arrived in Amsterdam, he immediately tried to get political asylum in the Netherlands, but it was not granted. So, he decided to hitch hike and walk through Belgium to all the way to France where he was able to receive a residence permit. But work was hard to come by for a Czech immigrant. He worked in a foundry for a few days a week and he slept on park lawns, under trees, under bridges, or in subway corridors covered with a piece of cardboard to stay warm. This was not going anywhere, so he decided to follow his lifelong dream of going to America. One day at the docks, he jumped on a moving belt with suitcases which were entering the hold for a ship. This is how he boarded an ocean liner bound for New York. After a few days of hiding and starving, he went up and reported himself to the captain who promptly put him in a holding cell. As soon as the ship arrived in New York, an American immigration officer sent Peter back to France.
Poor Peter — on that attempt all he saw of his dream of America was a view of Lady Liberty in New York from the deck of the ship.
The unfortunate events of August 21, 1968, in Czechoslovakia gave new hope to Peter. Canada had declared asylum for all Czechs living abroad. Peter landed in Toronto in early September of 1968. At first, he stayed in a large immigration center and later he stayed with a colleague. Working as welders by day, they practiced judo at the Hatashita Judo Club in the evenings. Sundays were spent in theaters, watching cheap movies.
Ah, the movies. So many Czechs say they learned English from film and television. Peter learned to speak English this way, too. He kept at his judo and soon won the Pan-American championship in the sport.
In 1970, Peter’s mother died of cancer. He could not go to say his final goodbye because he was sentenced to one year in prison in Czechoslovakia for illegal emigration.
All this time, Peter had hoped and prayed to get his family to the United States through the Red Cross. He kept working on this. However, it was pointless. In the end, the outcome of his plans would have been irrelevant because his nineteen-year-old wife was afraid to go with their one-year-old daughter to such a distant and unknown country, so in 1972, they were divorced in Peters absence.
In the summer of 1974, Peter finally obtained Canadian citizenship. His dreams had graduated from judo to doing stunt work and he got his first job as a stuntman in Toronto on a TV series entitled Jalna for CBC Canada.
To Peter, America was western movies. His grandfather read his American western books.
While growing up, he saw every western film that came to Czechoslovakia. It was Yakima Canutt’s incredible stunt scene in the film Stagecoach which captivated him most. Yakima Canutt was an award winning rodeo rider who became famous for his live-action stunt scenes in western movies. One of Yakima’s most memorable stunts occurs in the western. Stagecoach. He amazingly jumps from his horse onto a team of six stagecoach horses and then slides underneath all of them and the stagecoach to a safe stop on the ground. This movie scene wasn’t edited and magically put together. What you see is what really happened.
The one movie clip is here:
Peter saw this and thought it was absolutely amazing!
He longed to be a cowboy stuntman.
He began to dream of going to California and becoming a stuntman in Hollywood. He left Canada and made his way to Los Angeles where he found an ad that a film production needed a stuntman. The producer liked him and he got the job. This is how his professional stunt career began.
He performed various types of stunts: jumps on a motorcycle over ten cars, falls from a horse, from heights, from stairs, car accidents, jumps with a motorboat over a moving truck (or through a truck), catapult launching, jumping by car over a double-decker bus and many others. Peter was fearless and loved his job.
With his outgoing Czech personality and his brave attitude towards the risky stunts, he quickly befriended movie stars like Steven Seagal, Eddie Murphy, Danny DeVito, Billy Crystal, Chuck Norris , and others. Horak also worked as stunt double for actor Billy Crystal on several feature films including the crime comedy Throw Momma from the Train, and the romance Forget Paris.
Peter has appeared in many movies and tv series, including Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Nico, Kojak, Columbo, Hill Street Blues, The Fall Guy, Riptide, Emergency!, The Incredible Hulk. and others. He usually played car or motorcycle drivers, police officers, and gangsters. His repertoire includes working for all the major movie studios, as a stunt man and a stunt coordinator.
Along with stunts, Peter also acted in Die Hard Dracula, The Fifth Floor, and Sons of Sassoun. He is stuntman in the following: National Security, Mystery Men, Street Corner Justice, The Nutty Professor, Forget Paris, Ghost in the Machine, Cold Heaven, Hangfire, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Problem Child, Viper, Above the Law, Cold Steel, Throw Momma from the Train, Wired to Kill, Foxtrap, Forty Days of Musa Dagh, Underground Aces, The Fifth Floor, The One Man Jury, Good Guys Wear Black, Viva Knievel!, Hughes and Harlow: Angels in Hell, MacArthur, The Amorous Adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and No Way Back.
Soon, Peter found love again. His girlfriend Kristy worked in the same business, as a stunt woman. Peter had plans to marry Kristy after his planned jump from the 22nd floor of a building into a huge air cushion which measured 19 x 15 meters.
\Peter designed and sewed the air cushion himself. Later, he rented it to the Universal Studios in Hollywood.
During his stunt years, Peter had to train hard, so he stayed active by skiing, surfing, walking on a rope for stability training, practicing somersaults and various falls. He rode horses, motorcycles, climbed rocks, parachuted, drove a motorboat, practiced judo, climbed mountains, and did somersaults on a trampoline. To relax he played guitar and sang.
In 1980, thanks to the longest jet jump from a ramp in the water, Peter was named in the Guinness Book of Records.
See that jump here…
Czech Stuntman Peter Horak sets a world record by jumping a Glastron Carlson CVX-20 boat 120 feet through the air.
Peter finally visited Czechoslovakia in 1982 for the first time and met his fifteen-year-old daughter, Simona.
When he could no longer work as a stuntman, he studied film production at the University of Los Angeles and he made two movies.
His everyday hobby was tennis and he also enjoyed fishing. He was proud of going after his American dream and lived alongside his wife Kristy in a house near the Pacific coast in Los Angeles until his death on October 1, 2017. Peter was 74 years old at the time of his death.
In 2001, a documentary movie, A Man Who Fell from the Sky, was made about Petr Horák and his stunt tricks.
About the fi;m…
A daring Czech Judo champion escapes Communism, becomes a noted Hollywood stuntman, befriends movie icon Chuck Connors who hosts this look at his world-record stunts. A rare glimpse into the mind and body of a pro stuntman.
The film shows Peter’s jump of 22 stories into his hand sewn air bag.
He made it!
Below is the movie, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, in its entirety and you can see Peter’s jump.
It is one hour long, and very interesting – Peter tells his entire life story and we get to see some of his amazing stunts!
His friend, and host Chuck Connors shows us what kind of guts it takes – to be totally engulfed in flames, to jump off buildings, get dragged by a powerboat just inches from the propeller. Peter Horak displays remarkable physical control and nerves of steel. A rare glimpse into the mind and body of a Czech professional stuntman.
Enjoy the film!
Petr Horák was one of those lucky ones who fulfilled his boyhood dream.
A very special thanks to Martin Nekola and the Czechoslovak Talks website, from where most of the information about Peter came.
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