Rick Rojatt—The Stuntman Who Became Famous as the Human Fly
While many people crave for fame and fortune, there are some who, having tasted each, prefer to revert to anonymity. Rick Rojatt, The Human Fly, is someone in this category. He appeared seemingly out of nowhere to astound the world with his extraordinary, death-defying stunts and disappeared almost as suddenly and offering no explanation. Throughout his career, he had kept his identity a closely guarded secret, and it has remained so ever since.
In 1976, Joe and Dominique Ramacieri, who were Montreal-based sausage-makers and ran a family business called Roma Foods, decided to expand into show business. They formed the Human Fly Spectaculars, Ltd., and hired a stuntman named Rick Rojatt to perform attention-grabbing stunts. Rick Rojatt always appeared in public in a red felt full-body costume that masked his identity. The suit had white stripes and sequins, and he often wore it with a cape and a helmet. He also carried a sceptre sometimes.
As Rick Rojatt’s popularity grew, the public became interested in his personal life, and he had quite a backstory to impart.
According to what Rick Rojatt told the media, he was a Canadian stuntman from Montreal, Quebec, who went by the professional name ‘The Human Fly’. He claimed to have been active as a stuntman in Hollywood in the 1970s, although the California Union has no record of him in their roster of stunt performers. And, as he always wore a red and white mask to cover his face, nobody ever knew what he looked like.
He did, however, reveal some parts of his personal life in an interview with People magazine. According to him, five years before he emerged into the limelight, he had lost his wife and four-year-old daughter in a horrific car accident in North Carolina, and he had barely survived it himself. It took him four years and 38 operations that involved augmenting his skeleton with 60 percent steel to get back on his feet again.
He had since rebuilt his health by following a strict regimen of rising at 3 a.m. every day and going for a six-mile run. After that, he bathed in an ice cube-filled bath.
His steel-enhanced skeleton, or so he claimed, made him almost indestructible, and that was why he dared to perform his incredible stunts.
In another version of the tale, he claimed he was injured after an angry female gorilla flung him across the enclosure while he was working in the Montreal Zoo.
Rick Rojatt’s Aeroplane Wing Walk
In 1976, when he was 29 years old, Rick Rojatt performed the famous stunt that made him a household name across USA and Canada. He walked over the wings of a Douglas DC-8 airplane that was in mid-flight. His company, the Human Fly Spectaculars, Ltd., made a promotional film of the event called “The Human Fly Challenges the Mojave Skies.”
Wearing a red and white mask, a white cape, and a steel-reinforced jumpsuit, with the UCLA marching band playing in the background, the Human Fly made his appearance at the Mojave, California, airport. He informed the gathered media people that he had prepared for the stunt by practising in a wind tunnel. A crane lifted him on the waiting airplane, and his three assistants strapped his chest and legs onto a steel brace device they had fixed with cables to the plane. To help him breathe while in flight, his nose and mouth had oxygen tubes in them.
Once he was in position, he gave a thumbs-up, and the pilot Clay Lacy took off and flew the four-engine jet plane up to 500 feet at a speed of 280 mph over the Mojave desert. They were in the air for about 20 minutes. As Rick Rojatt walked across the plane’s wing, they got caught in a rainstorm, and, at that speed, the water drops hit him so hard that Rick passed out from the excruciating pain. He had to be hospitalized for two weeks to recover.
He repeated the stunt, however, the following year. The only issue in that instance was that his helmet visor came off during the flight, and he had to squint in the high winds.
Revelling in the publicity from these stunts, Rick Rojatt informed People magazine that he had had no reason to be afraid. He also told them that he was planning on performing more death-defying stunts in the near future. These included sky-diving over the English Channel, jumping into a water tank from the CN Tower in Toronto, and sky-diving over Mount Everest.
The purpose behind these stunts was simple, as his manager explained to the media people. It was to make money.
Rick Rojatt’s Motorbike Jump
One of Rick Rojatt’s to-do items was to beat Evel Knievel’s world record of jumping a motorbike over 13 school buses. In 1977, he announced that he would out-do that feat by driving over 27 vehicles. He intended to jump over 36 of them but was dissuaded from the idea by Ky Michaelson, who fitted out his motorbike for the jump.
The motorbike was a 1977 Harley Davidson XL-1000 Sportster, and Ky Michaelson fitted two hydrogen peroxide rockets, each with a 1500 pound thrust, on top of each other under the fuel tank. With these rocket engines, the motorbike could go over 300 mph.
The stunt took place as a half-time show during a disco concert in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, featuring Gloria Gaynor and various other performers.
Right before the stunt was to happen, Ky Michaelson took a look at the jumping and landing ramps and noticed that the workmen hadn’t built them to the required specifications. He immediately pointed that out to Rick Rojatt and his team and asked them to call off the jump that night. He also reminded them that Rick Rojatt hadn’t even test-driven the motorbike, and to attempt the stunt in these conditions would be disastrous. They refused to listen, however.
According to Ky Michaelson, Rick Rojatt looked completely drunk or drugged. He asked him how to operate the motorbike and then got on it and took off, with white smoke emitting from the exhaust and the music blaring in the background. As the crowd watched, he soared off the launch point and flew over the buses. He managed to reach the 19th bus, and then the motorbike flipped over and crashed on top of him. After the crash, he and the bike went sliding at high speed over the roofs of the remaining buses and then hurtled down the landing ramp.
A silence enveloped the crowd. Everyone thought Rick Rojatt was dead. Nobody could come out of such a crash unscathed. As it turned out, though, if anyone could survive it, it was Rick Rojatt. He had not only broken Evel Knievel’s world record by jumping over 19 buses, but he had also managed to stay alive too. The stunt cost him a broken ankle and various other injuries, but he was otherwise alright. He even waved to the public as the medics carried him off on a stretcher to the ambulance, his mask still in place to safeguard his anonymity.
However, that was the last time anyone saw him in public as The Human Fly.
Thereafter, Rick Rojatt simply disappeared from the public eye, and no one ever heard from him again.
Rick Rojatt: The Inspiration Behind Marvel Comics’ The Human Fly
After Rick Rojatt became a public celebrity with his airplane walk, Marvel Comics was inspired to base a new character, The Human Fly, on him. They gave him the slogan ‘The wildest superhero ever because he’s real!’ The character had the same fantastic back history as the real Rick Rojatt, performed stunts to give money to children’s charities, fought off villains, and saved children in danger.
Written by Bill Mantlo, with inputs from Marvel’s other writers and editors, the first issue of the comic book came out in 1977. It was a short-lived series, lasting from September 1977 to March 1979, with only 19 issues. However, it was quite popular for a while, and the character received a lot of fan mail. Marvel included it in each comic book under the section titled ‘The Fly Papers’.
The real Rick Rojatt—in costume—helped with the publicity blitz by visiting sick children in hospitals and by being a featured guest at children’s charity events. Along with posing for photographs with his fans and signing autographs at each event, he fought off and defeated villains before they could steal the money, to the cheers of everyone present.
What happened to Rick Rojatt?
After Rick Rojatt’s disappearance, his fans made many attempts to track him down and discover what had happened to him. The Ramacieri brothers were not much help, beyond informing the public that they had hired several stuntmen to perform in costume. They hinted that perhaps Rick Rojatt had switched careers to become a musician. Beyond that, everyone came up against a blank wall. There was no mention of the stuntman in any newspapers, not even in the obituary sections. Rick Rojatt’s exact whereabouts remained unknown.
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