Farrell Hettig

'Fabulous' high-wire artiste
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The Independent Online

Farrell Hettig, high-wire artiste: born St Petersburg, Florida 1955; married (one son, one daughter); died Clearwater, Florida 2 August 2006.

For a few brief years, Farrell Hettig and Richard Schmitt gave the circus world one of the most death-defying high-wire partnerships it had ever seen. But, despite a career spent dicing with death, Hettig died at home in bed.

He was born in St Petersburg, Florida, in 1955, his family moving when he was young to nearby Sarasota, the township which is home to many leading American circuses, and has its own fine amateur high-school show, the Sailor Circus. Farrell Hettig first walked the wire at the tender age of six.

In 1975, at the age of 18, he joined the world-famed Wallenda Troupe, an act which had appeared in London at Bertram Mills Circus and which was celebrated in the United States for its sensational seven-person pyramid on the high wire.

Hettig was among many young performers trained by Karl Wallenda, who gained a degree of notoriety when his troupe fell during this feat in 1962, in a Detroit sports arena, leaving some members of his family maimed or dead. Wallenda himself died from a fall from a height of 10 storeys in Puerto Rico in 1978, when a strong gust of wind took him off an outdoor wire.

The year before Wallenda's death, the sensational act was recreated for a television film, The Great Wallendas, which starred Lloyd Bridges and Britt Ekland. Although Karl Wallenda was a technical adviser for the film, a new generation of the troupe appeared in the film - Terry Troffer and his wife Delilah Wallenda, Louis Murrillo, David Klukow, Tino and Ricky Wallenda and a 22-year-old Farrell Hettig.

With a partner, Richard Schmitt, Hettig then formed his own high-wire act, known as the Fabulous Farrell Brothers. It was indeed a splendid and outstanding number, rivalling the best in America at the time. In 1979 they came to Europe; they were awarded the prestigious Silver Clown trophy at the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo and then embarked on a tour of Australia, Japan and the Far East with the Monte Carlo Circus Spectacular.

In November 1980, they came to London to take part in the Circus World Championships for the BBC, but they lost out to the American Manfred Doval, who managed to retain his title for the third time. The Farrell Brothers went on to star in a number of leading European circuses, including the Swiss National Circus Knie in 1981, and also appeared in the Ringling Brothers' and Barnum and Bailey Circus theme park, Circus World, in Florida.

D. Nevil