1 of 2 | Google recognizes stunt performer and driver Kitty O'Neil on her 77th birthday with a Google Doodle. Photo courtesy of Google
March 24 (UPI) -- Kitty O'Neil was once dubbed the "fastest woman in the world." The stuntwoman and stunt driver achieved the feat in a rocket-powered car in 1976, driving a vehicle called The Motivator in Oregon's Alvord Desert.
She did so despite being deaf, going on to become a stuntwoman in movies and in TV. Those achievements are being recognized by Google, which made O'Neil the latest Google Doodle in honor of her 77th birthday.
O'Neil was born on March 21, 1946, in Corpus Christi, Texas. Her father is Irish and her mother is a member of the Cherokee Nation. O'Neil became deaf after childhood illnesses damaged the nerves to her ears. But she forged ahead despite the disability first becoming a diver, then a stunt performer when her diving career ended due to injury.
She performed stunts for actresses Lynda Carter, TV's Wonder Woman, and for Lindsay Wagner on The Bionic Woman, and in the 1980 movie, The Blues Brothers. Her stunts ranged from jumping off a balcony to crashing cars set on fire. But her biggest accomplishment was setting a women's speed record.
She did so in the place of Hal Needham, a film director and stuntman originally slated to set the record. After she established the mark, she was told she couldn't try to set the men's record because Needham's sponsors had already paid for him to do so.
"It really hurts," O'Neil said, after finding out she couldn't try for the overall record. "I wanted to do it again. I had a good feeling."
Although she crashed and died while doing so, stunt driver Jessi Combs broke the mark set by O'Neil, also at the Alvord Desert in 2019. Guinness posthumously awarded her the record.
O'Neil died of pneumonia in 2018. She was 72.