Forty years on, stuntwoman Sandy Gimpel still loves her occupational hazard
When she's not making workout videos, the Hollywood veteran gets set ablaze and falls from tall buildings.
North Hollywood, Calif.
Age means nothing to 68-year-old veteran stuntwoman, Sandy Gimpel. A fourth-level black belt in karate – a sport she also teaches – she routinely falls down stairs, jumps from high cliffs, and takes more than a few bruises from some of Hollywood's leading men. Recently, Eddie Murphy tossed her over a crowd of people in front of a building for his film "Norbit." [Editor's note: The original version misstated the location of the stunt.]Skip to next paragraph
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"She's got the body of a 20-year-old," says her fitness instructor, Michael Blanks, "and the spirit of one, too." [Editor's note: the original version misstated the occupation of her instructor.]
Now, this pro wants to share lessons from more than four decades of stunts such as sticking her bare hands in a hot flame and doubling for the likes of Sally Struthers. In January, she will release a new workout video titled "Stuntblasters – Cardio Mix DVD." [Editor's note: the original version misstated the release date of the video.]
"Life is a stunt," says Ms. Gimpel, snuggled deep in her plush couch, much like one of the five cats who share her neat-as-a-pin showcase home. (She also does interior design, she says, because every performer needs a sideline to help weather the lean times such as the current writers strike.) Every day is a work of choreography, she says. From the moment you wake up or drive a car or walk a city street, it requires preparation and daily maintenance.
"I train every day so when I need to twist or turn for a stunt, I'm ready." But, she says, everyone should stretch and get moving, daily. "You'd be amazed how much a simple morning boost can help you on that drive or walk, and make you feel better and younger all day long," she says.
Mother of a grown daughter, Gimpel trains daily with a mix of martial arts, aerobics, and weight work. This morning, she begins with the advanced, heart pounding "Drenched Cardio" class at Body Theory, Mr. Blanks's North Hollywood gym. At just over 5-feet tall, she is indistinguishable from the hordes of bobbing young actors, athletes, and dancers around her. But her résumé – and war stories – belie her youthful, fat-free frame. [Editor's note: the original version misstated the nature of the class.]
A California native whose father was a gymnast, Gimpel began her professional career as a dancer. She quickly found that in the 1960s, where variety programs such as The Dean Martin Show often demanded lines of dancers all the same height, jobs were scarce for her tiny size.
In 1967, she applied to be a stand-in on TV's "Lost in Space." Instead, she was recruited for her first stunt job to double for the show's 11-year-old Bill Mumy. Paul Stader, the stunt director, took her under his wing, says Gimpel. She considers the three years she worked on that show "her apprenticeship." The most important lessons she learned about stunts: always tuck your head (to protect it), doublecheck the choreography and rigging for all stunts, and most important, always know the people you work with.
A cable snaps – at 120 ft.