Jay Cochrane completes the Skylon Tower Skywalk, ©Mark D Phillips

There has never been a wirewalker quite like Jay Cochrane.
 

There is certainly no one like him now.

The year 2012 marks his 54th year in the business, his 50th year working on highwires, and his 40th year working on sky-wires, the beautiful, expertly raised, gigantic outdoor installations he has ascended so often to the applause of millions.

He was born in Sudbury, Canada, and now lives in the United States. His exploits have made him a legend in many countries and a citizen of the world.

His career began as one might expect a storybook tale would, when he ran away from home at the age of 14 to join a circus, The Royal Hanneford, playing in Ontario. Jay was the original "Toby Tyler."

He began by cleaning up behind the animals, but his remarkable natural talent soon became evident and under the tutelage of the renowned aerialist Struppi Hanneford, known to audiences worldwide as Princess Tajana, he soon mastered nearly every circus act.

"The first thing she taught me was self-respect," he said. "Whatever I become, I owe it all to her. She never judged me, and she has always been there for me."

Among his many strengths was the flying trapeze, but his greatest was the high wire, that 2,000 year-old art performed by some of the greatest athletes in history. His skill on the wire set him apart and he became a star, headlining shows on many continents.

Then, in 1970 he began ascending even higher. He erected and then walked on a wire strung 50 stories high, between two skyscrapers above the busy downtown streets of Toronto. It was a jaw-dropping performance, the likes of which had never been seen before. "The first time, I was scared to death," Jay admitted. "When I finished I went, `Hum. what's next?'"

And that was just the beginning.

Among his thousands of skywalks - over four decades of performances - on wires stretching more than the distance from Los Angeles to New York and back, are six world records.

In 1972 he walked a total distance of two and a half miles, back and forth 41 times on a 300-foot-long wire at the Canadian National Exhibition; in 1981 he lived on a wire for 21 days in San Juan, Puerto Rico; in 1995 he raised and ascended his legendary Qutang Gorge skywire in central China, often called the greatest wirewalk in history, traversing 2,098 feet, 1,340 feet above the Yangtze River; in 1996, as part of the Shanghai Tourism Festival, he set the world record for the longest and highest nighttime walk, performing on a 600-foot-long, 500-foot-high apparatus above the Pearl of Orient Tower; in 1998, he walked a 800-foot-long, 300-foot-high wire strung from the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, live on American national television … while blindfolded, a breathtaking feat; and in 2001 at the Love River in Taiwan, he performed the longest building-to-building walk ever, between two 40-story edifices on opposites sides of the river in Kaohsiung, a one-hour, nine-minute, non-stop show.

One October morning in 1995, Jay Cochrane stepped onto a thin steel wire a quarter mile above the Yangtze River in China's legendary Qutang Gorge for his greatest show.

Jay Cochrane completes the Great China Skywalk; ©Mark D Phillips

In 53 minutes he skywalked 2,098 feet to the Lion's Face of the gorge, an accomplishment recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the greatest wirewalk in history.

"When I looked across the gorge, my first thought was `You want me to walk across that?'" Jay said. "It was the first time I ever had to talk myself into a walk," he admitted. "Then I started thinking about how it could be done. I knew I would do it."

Jay spent a month in the city of Fengjie as the wire was strung. "My biggest regret in Fengjie was that I was so busy I didn't see the effect the skywalk had on the people," Jay said.

Commemorative stamps, envelopes, watches and phone cards chronicled his daring and are eagerly collected in China. He was serenaded by school children with Chinese love songs and mobbed each time he left his hotel. As the skywalk approached, the crowds which flocked to Jay's hotel for autographs and photographs grew steadily. "I wasn't prepared for the kids," he said. "They would get all dressed up and come night after night. Perhaps I changed their lives, but I know they had a profound effect on me."

The walk was viewed by 200,000 who trekked to the remote site, and 500 million more on China TV. Jay's image on the skywire was published worldwide. As the strains of Ravel's "Bolero" carried through the chasm, Jay paused at the middle of the wire. "I stopped just to see where I was," he said.

"I thought, `Here we are again.' I felt alone on the wire. Then I saw one of the Yangtze River cruise ships pass underneath me and I just went, `Wow.'"

The skywalk made Jay a celebrity, but he only realized how famous he'd become when he arrived back in Beijing and was recognized instantly wherever he went. "They have changed my life," said Cochrane. "My personal regret is that I didn't start here 20 years ago. I do hope that our western influence doesn't change their culture and philosophy."

Arriving in Shanghai for the Shanghai Tourism Festival in 1998, friends noticed the buzz throughout the entire customs force at the airport. Shanghai was Jay's first skywalk back in China after the Great China Skywalk and it cemented Jay's relationship with the Chinese people.

Jay Cochrane skywalks above Shanghai, China, in World Record nighttime performance; ©Mark D Phillips

Jay's walk drew the largest crowd of the eight-day Shanghai Tourism Festival as more than 250,000 spectators lined the streets below. The skywalk was a cause for parties in skyscrapers all over Shanghai with prime viewing available in the Pearl of the Orient Tower, Shanghai's tallest structure.

"It was thrilling to be the showpiece of an event that featured over 4,000 performers," said Jay. "Shanghai is incredible, what a marvel." The 600-foot walk, 525 feet above the ground, set a world record for the longest and highest building-to-building nighttime skywalk.

Jay Cochrane has spent his life meeting the challenge of the wire and perfecting the art of skywalking. In 1965, a poorly built tower collapsed during a performance in Toronto. Cochrane's life and career almost ended as he fell 90 feet to a concrete floor. At the time, doctors said the best Jay could hope for was walking with two canes for the rest of his life.

But after nearly four years in hospitals, Jay was back in the air. He thanks the Anglican nuns who cared for him for bringing him back to life — and the wire. "They were determined to make me walk again because they couldn't stand the thought of me staying there," he said.

During his convalescence, Jay earned a master's degree in bridge and structural engineering from Toronto University. "At the time, I never thought that studying structural engineering would be such a pivotal choice for me," Jay said. "I talk to engineers as we prepare for walks and we can speak the same language."

Cochrane designs and prepares each of his skywires; nothing is left to chance. He now designs and rigs all his skywalks. The engineering involved in setting a wire between two high structures is daunting. Each skywalk has its own challenges, as he builds his "highway in the sky." Think of it as an upside down Brooklyn Bridge. Jay walks the underside of the roadway. The suspension cables that support the roadway attach to the ground. For the Great China Skywalk, Jay used more than 100-miles of guide lines to stabilize the cable.

Now with Skywalk2012, Jay Cochrane is reaching a pinnacle in skywalking. And it takes place in the awe-inspiring Niagara region.

Jay Cochrane and Niagara are words that go together.

 
In the first skywalk in Niagara Falls in 100 years, Jay Cochrane used Niagara Falls as his backdrop; ©Mark D Phillips

In 2002, Jay Cochrane became the first skywalker to reappear in the Niagara region since 1897.

The first skywalk in over a hundred years went from the pinnacle of the Sheraton on the Falls Hotel to the Casino Niagara Tower at a height of 40 stories, with Niagara Falls as the backdrop. "Skywalk at Niagara" was the highest skywalk ever completed in Niagara Falls.

During the same summer, Jay skywalked over the top of Planet Hollywood three times DAILY at a height of 200 feet. Following each walk, Jay met, greeted, and sign autographs for the public with donations going to the Tender Wishes Foundation of Niagara Falls. When Jay finished his skywalks in Niagara Falls that summer, he skywalked a distance equal to 200 trips across the Niagara gorge.

In the summer of 2005, Jay Cochrane returned to Niagara Falls for the greatest skywalking event in North American history.

The "Skylon Tower Skywalk" began atop the 32-story (364 feet height) Niagara Fallsview Casino, traversing a distance of 1,250 feet, and finished atop the Skylon Tower at a height of 520 feet. Jay's performance was astounding, set to music as he talked to the crowd below, giving the spectators a first-hand experience of what it is like to be on the wire. Jay Cochrane completed the longest and highest skywalk ever performed outside of China.

That same summer, Jay skywalked a distance of 650 feet between the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort and the Hilton Hotel, 400 feet above the ground, Jay's twice daily skywalks captivated on their own merit. Over the 71 days Jay performed this skywalk, he traveled more than 17 miles and spent almost 3 days in total time on the wire between the hotels.

Skywalk 2012 performances will be both higher and longer, and once again, Jay will interact with the viewers from above, breaking his distance record from the summer of 2005.

“Niagara Falls is the premier venue in the world for Skywalk 2012,” said Cochrane. “This walk approaches the grandeur of my Great China Skywalk across Qutang Gorge above the Yangtze River. I’m excited to give a spectacular performance that will draw attention to my home country of Canada and inspire people to visit Niagara.”

Since 2002, Jay has skywalked over 800 times in the Niagara region, including his third visit in the summer of 2007. His daily "Up Close and Personal with Jay Cochrane" skywalks took place from 200-foot tall towers specially constructed for the intimate Clinton Hill performances.

Continuing the history of Niagara as your adventure vacation destination, Skywalk2012 is the greatest of any skywalk ever performed in North America with the combined distance and height putting this skywalk into a class of its own. And Jay will skywalk daily as the weather permits.

Skywalk 2012, sponsored by The Tourism Partnership of Niagara in partnership with the Fallsview Boulevard business improvement area, puts Cochrane into a league of his own. Jay’s highwire will extend 1,300 feet from the top of the Niagara Falls/Fallsview Hilton Hotel North Tower at a height of 581 feet (177m) to the top of the Skylon Tower at a height of 520 feet (160m) in the heart of Niagara Falls. With a distance of 1,300 feet per skywalk, Jay's total distance can be measured by miles and kilometers.

But even more important to him than any of these spectacular achievements has been his work in the cause of children – especially on behalf of those who are needy or stricken with illness. He has raised millions of dollars for them worldwide and will not ascend the wire unless his performance benefits them. He has dedicated his life to children and their well being.

Cochrane's announcement of an additional commitment to the Boys and Girls Club of Niagara Falls to share with this great organization a portion of the proceeds that will be derived from his upcoming Skywalk performances in the Niagara region is also most noteworthy. His performances over the past decade in Niagara Falls raised significant contributions to local organizations. Most notably Cochrane raised over US $157,000 for the Tender Wishes Foundation.

For 2012, Jay will be sharing the donation proceeds with both organizations. His dedication to the children of the area is something he holds dear. At all of Jay's personal and media appearances around the region he will raise awareness of these local charities, their needs and important community impact.

The pantheon of history’s greatest wire walkers is remarkable. The likes of Blondin the Magnificent, The Great Farini, and Karl Wallenda, have walked in the sky before millions on wires that defy description. Jay Cochrane has surpassed each and everyone with his achievements in the sky and on the ground.

Jay's Record Book

Longest building-to-building skywalk: 2,190 feet in 2001 In 1 hour, 9 minutes, Jay skywalked between two forty-story buildings on opposite sides of the Love River in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Longest and highest BLINDFOLDED skywalk: 800 feet long, 300 feet high in 1998 Walking BLINDFOLDED 300 feet above glittering Las Vegas, Jay Cochrane captured his FIFTH WORLD RECORD for skywalking. The phenomenal performance took place between the towers of the Flamingo Hilton and was broadcast on FOX Network's "Guinness World Records: Primetime" on Tuesday, February 23, 1999!

Longest and highest nighttime building-to-building skywalk: 600-ft-long, 525 feet high in 1996 The showpiece of the Shanghai Tourism Festival, Jay's walk captivated the audience and could be seen from skyscrapers throughout the city.

Longest and highest combined skywalk: 2,098-ft-long, 1,340 feet high in 1995 Jay skywalked from one cliff wall of Qutang Gorge, China, to the opposite side above the Yangtze River. In 53 minutes, Jay cemented his position as the premier skywalker of our age.

Longest time on a wire: 21 days in 1981 Jay completed this remarkable feat in San Juan, Puerto Rico, breaking his own record of 20 days held since 1976.

Farthest distance on a wire: 2 1/2 miles in 1972 In 4 hours, 34 minutes, Jay traversed a 300-foot-long wire at a height of 120 feet between the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Canadian National Grandstand in Toronto at the Canadian National Exposition a total of 41 times.

Jay's History of Memorable Skywalks

1970: His first skywalk ever between the Hudson Bay Towers (50 stories) in Toronto, Canada. Jay skywalked between them twice more in `73 and `77.

1980: Walked to top of 1/3 replica of the Eifel Tower at Kings Dominion.

1983: Lived on the wire for 21 days, tying his world record set in Puerto Rico, at Kennywood Park in Pennsylvania.

1984: Over the Arch in St. Louis, MO between two cranes 1,800-feet apart.

1985: Skywalked 1,100 feet from the Oil Clock Tower to the Space Needle during the Oklahoma State Fair.

1988: In six months from September 1988 to February 1989, completed nearly 300 walks over Space Ship Earth in Disney's Epcot Center.

1989: Skywalked the entire length of the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, a distance of 1,800 feet at a height of 400 feet. He has returned for encore performances two additional years.

1990: Walked above the world-famous Silver Springs, Florida for three consecutive years.

1992: Skywalked across Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, PA, one of America's oldest and historic amusement parks.

1994: Skywalked from the top of the Sports Coliseum to the Space Needle in Hershey, PA, a distance of 2,000 feet at a height of 400 feet.

2000: The "Skywalk Tampa" performance began at the Ice Palace at a height of 175 feet to the pinnacle of the Marriott at a height of 425 feet, nearly 900 feet in distance and Jay travelled end-to-end in under 30 minutes.

2005: The "Niagara Casino to Hilton Skywalk," a distance of 650 feet between the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort and the Hilton Hotel, 400 feet above the ground.

2005: The "Skylon Tower Skywalk" began at a height of 400 feet atop the Niagara Fallsview Casino. Traversing a distance of 1,800 feet, Jay stepped off the wire on top of the Skylon Tower, more than 600 feet high. The longest skywalk in North American history required 50 minutes to complete.

2007: Jay's "Up Close and Personal Skywalks," between his specially designed 200 foot (20 stories) towers spaced 1,000 feet apart near the Skylon Tower.

Stadium skywalks: Jay has walked above many of America's greatest stadiums including: Busch Stadium (8 times), New Orleans SuperDome, Atlanta-Fulton County, Tampa, Miami, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Nashville, Savannah, Portland, Mobile, Memphis, Detroit and JFK Stadium.