Advertisement

Mickey Gilbert, Stunt Double for Robert Redford and Gene Wilder, Dies at 87

Mickey Gilbert, the fearless stunt performer who jumped off a cliff for Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and doubled for Gene Wilder in films including Blazing Saddles, Silver Streak and The Frisco Kid, has died. He was 87.

Gilbert died Monday of natural causes at his home in Camarillo, California, his oldest son, Tim Gilbert, also a stunt performer, told The Hollywood Reporter.

More from The Hollywood Reporter

Early in his career, Gilbert was a horse wrangler in William Wyler’s Ben-Hur (1959) and a bank robber in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). Years later, he took the lumps for Lee Majors’ Colt Seavers on the 1981-86 ABC action show The Fall Guy.

Though they weren’t friends at the time, Gilbert and Redford were in the same class at Van Nuys High School, graduating in 1954. They got together on George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) when Redford and Paul Newman’s outlaws leap from a cliff into a river far below to elude their pursuers.

While Redford and Newman landed on a ledge with a mattress a few feet below, Gilbert and fellow stunt performer Howard Curtis had actually taken off from a construction crane at the Paramount Ranch outside Los Angeles in front of a matte painting of a gorge.

A member of The Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame, Gilbert would also double for Redford in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), The Sting (1973), The Great Waldo Pepper (1975), The Electric Horseman (1979), Brubaker (1980), The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), The Horse Whisperer (1998) and, in a touching reunion, The Old Man & the Gun (2018).

In addition to stepping in for Wilder as The Waco Kid in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974), Gilbert jumped from a moving train to a signal post in place of the actor in Arthur Hiller’s Silver Streak (1976) and accompanied a horse off a cliff into the water below in Robert Aldrich’s The Frisco Kid (1979).

He also doubled for Wilder in The World’s Greatest Lover (1977) and Stir Crazy (1980).

Roderick Michael Gilbert was born in Los Angeles on April 17, 1936. When he was 6, his father bought a chicken ranch in Van Nuys — one of the largest in Southern California — then trained him in gymnastics, pole vaulting, discus throwing and the hurdles.

Gilbert rode a horse while delivering newspapers on his paper route, and when he was 13, he won just about every event at a junior rodeo competition. He turned pro three years later, and while attending Pierce College in Woodland Hills, he collected national championships in calf roping, bareback riding and bulldogging.

Mickey Gilbert
Mickey Gilbert in his days as a rodeo cowboy

Six feet tall and 165 pounds in his prime, Gilbert lassoed a whiskey bottle from a gunslinger’s hand from a dozen feet away as a double for Richard Widmark in Edward Dmytryk’s Warlock (1959). He also landed a regular job standing in for Grant Sullivan that year on the syndicated TV series Pony Express. (Later on, Widmark would insist that Gilbert be his double.)

In 1962, he married Yvonne Yrigoyen, daughter of top stunt performer and coordinator Joe Yrigoyen, and then worked in the films Alvarez Kelly (1966), Beau Geste (1966), Africa, Texas Style (1967) — where he was chased by a rhino as Hugh O’Brian‘s replacement — Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and Little Big Man (1970), and as Chuck Connors’ double on the 1967-68 ABC series Cowboy in Africa.

Gilbert also rode a bicycle backward as Newman’s character in Butch Cassidy.

For James C. Udel, the author of the 2022 book Doubling for McQueen and Redford: The Stunt Careers of Loren James and Mickey Gilbert, he drew an imaginary arc through the air with his hand to explain a stunt he pulled off in a Ford Mustang on The Fall Guy.

“The ramp had to be positioned here, and [the car] needs to be doing 60 miles an hour as it hits the pitched ramp,” he said. “It was like a golfer’s chip shot, like a mortar, then down the green.”

Gilbert’s résumé included stunts on Westworld (1973), Earthquake (1974), The Towering Inferno (1974), The Wind and the Lion (1975), Rooster Cogburn (1975), The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976), Every Which Way but Loose (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and gigs as a stunt coordinator on Junior Bonner (1972), The Golden Child (1986), City Slickers (1991), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Apollo 13 (1995), A Time to Kill (1996) and Bruce Almighty (2003).

He also handled second-unit directing work on movies like Liar Liar (1997) and Elf (2003) and even portrayed a killer on the first episode of ABC’s Kolchak the Night Stalker in 1974.

His memoir, Me and My Saddle-Pal: My Life as a Hollywood Stuntman, was published in 2014.

All three of his sons, Tim, Lance and Troy, are stunt performers, as are all five of his grandsons, Aiden, Gage, Cody, Levi and Luke — the fourth generation of Hollywood stunt performers in his family.

Survivors also include his wife and his granddaughters, Lulu, Mimi and Paulina.

Best of The Hollywood Reporter