Karl Wallenda (January 21, 1905 -March 22, 1978) was a German-American high wire artist and founder of The Flying Wallendas, a daredevil circus act which performed dangerous stunts, often without a safety net. He was the great-grandfather of current performer Nik Wallenda. Wallenda, born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1905, began performing with his family at age six. The Great Wallendas were noted throughout Europe for their four-man pyramid and cycling on the high wire. The act moved to the United States in 1928, performing as free-lancers. In 1947 they developed the unequaled three-tier 7-Man Pyramid. Karl Wallenda had the idea since 1938, but it took until 1946, when he and his brother Herman developed it and had the right acrobats for it. The Great Wallendas, a 1978 made-for-TV movie starring Karl Wallenda, depicts the act's comeback after a fatal accident involving several family members during a performance.
On July 18, 1970, a 65-year-old Wallenda performed a high-wire walk, also known as a skywalk, across the Tallulah Gorge, a gorge formed by the Tallulah River in Georgia. An estimated 30,000 people watched Wallenda perform two headstands as he crossed the quarter-mile-wide gap.
In 1974, at 69 years old, he broke a world skywalk distance record of 1,800 feet at Kings Island, a record that stood until July 4, 2008, when his great grandson, Nik Wallenda, completed a 2,000-foot skywalk at the same location. Despite being involved in several tragedies in his family's acts, Wallenda continued with his stunts. In 1978, at age 73, Wallenda attempted a walk between the two towers of the ten-story Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a wire stretched 121 feet above the pavement. Due to improper wiring support and high winds, he fell to his death during the attempt. A film crew from WAPA-TV in San Juan taped the fall, and the video, featuring anchorman Guillermo Torres' narration of the fall, circled the world.