The walk at the center of the new movie The Walk (in limited release Wednesday) is on a wire, between the towers of the World Trade Center. It doesn’t seem like it could possibly be based on a true story—but it is.
When 24-year-old Philippe Petit (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the film) first set foot on the 131-ft. galvanized steel wire he had spent all night rigging between the tops of the still-unfinished Twin Towers, “I couldn’t help laughing—it was so beautiful,” he told the New York Times in 1974.
Having taught himself to wire walk at 16, Petit first learned about the World Trade Center in a magazine at a dentist’s office and was so infatuated he ripped the page out and left before his appointment. He planned the stunt for the next six years, with preparations that included a scale model in his Paris apartment, according to the Guardian. During his first visit to New York, in January 1974, Petit evaded building security to sneak up to the roof.
On the afternoon of Aug. 6, 1974, Petit and three friends arrived at the towers in an unmarked van and spent all night working. By 7:15 a.m. on Aug. 7, Petit was on the wire.
Petit spent 45 minutes walking back and forth, 1,350 ft. above the hundreds of people watching from the ground. At one point he lay down on the wire. “I was not scared because it was a precise thing,” Petit told the Times. “I was dying of happiness.”
Read more about the planning that went into the 1974 walk: The High-Level Scheming Behind Philippe Petit’s Twin Towers Tightrope Walk