Matriarch of tight-rope-walking Wallenda family dies at 87

Jenny Wallenda was the head of the famous family of gasp-inducing tight-rope performers.

Alvan Quinn
In this Jan. 24, 1964 file photo, Jenny Wallenda, a member of the famous Wallenda high wire act, applies makeup in a dressing room prior to appearing at opening of the Shrine Circus in Detroit. Wallenda, the matriarch of the famous family of high-flying circus performers, died late Saturday, April 4, 2015, at her home in Sarasota, Fla., according to family members. She was 87.

Jenny Wallenda, 87, the matriarch of the famous family of high-flying circus performers, died late Saturday at her home in Sarasota, Florida, according to family members.

Wallenda's nephew, Rick Wallenda, said his aunt died following a lengthy illness.

"She had a great life in entertainment, a very rewarding and rich life," he said.

Wallenda was the oldest daughter of high wire walker Karl Wallenda and grandmother of daredevil performer Nik Wallenda.

Jenny Wallenda's husband, Richard Faughnan, died in 1962 when a human pyramid collapsed. Karl Wallenda fell to his death in 1978.

Jenny Wallenda survived the invasion of Berlin by Soviet forces at the end of World War II and returned to the United States in 1947 to perform with her family. Her parents sent her to Germany to live with her grandparents in 1934 at age 6.

Jenny Wallenda walked the high wire as an adult and performed on bareback horses as a child.

According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune Wallenda advocated for causes important to the circus community in her later years and helped create the Circus Ring of Fame. She was inducted into the Ring of Fame in 2008.

Nik Wallenda paid tribute to the woman he called Oma on his Facebook page.

"She was an amazing woman who lived a truly incredible life. She will be missed everyday. Oma in your honor, I will never give up," he wrote.

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