If there’s a tall building, he’ll climb it, no harness required. Indeed, Alain Robert — a.k.a. the French Spider-Man — may have have more of a fear of policemen than he does of heights. (It’s not quite legal to scale the outside of a building without permission.)
The spry 50-year-old Frenchman cut his teeth on the rocks and gorges of southern France, where he learned to climb solo, without safety harnesses. He was spotted by a film director, who hired him in 1994 to star in a climbing documentary. According to his 2008 biography With Bare Hands, he was flown to Chicago and set his sights on the Citigroup Center, a 40-story building in the heart of the city’s “Loop” business district. It was his first experience free-climbing a manmade structure, and he did it without permission and without safety ropes. The sensational stunt would set the tone for the rest of his career. When Robert made it to the top of the building, police were there to greet him – something he would get used to. He’s been arrested many times since, as he rarely asks permission to climb. It took him three attempts to reach the top of Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers, and on the third attempt he was fined by police instead of arrested.
Robert has continually shattered his own records, climbing ever higher as architects continue to design higher. While usually he climbs sans permission, it’s become something of a spectacle for new buildings, particularly the world’s tallest ones, to allow him to climb (or even invite him). Just days before the opening of the 101-story Taipei 101 in 2004, he was approved to climb the building and did so as part of the building’s launch festivities. He one-upped himself in 2011 when he climbed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the 2,720-ft building that currently stands as the world’s tallest. Since he was climbing with government approval this time, he abided by UAE safety regulations and used a harness.
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