OBITUARY: Frequent Space Coast State Fair Iconic Performer Carla Wallenda Passes Away at Age 85

By  //  April 1, 2021

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Carla was a huge crowd favorite during her performances on the Space Coast

ABOVE & BELOW VIDEOS: Carla Wallenda talks with Space Coast Daily about her amazing family and career during these interviews in 2013. 

Carla Wallenda, a frequent performer over the last 15 years at the Space Coast State Fair, died March 6 at age 85 from natural causes in Sarasota, Florida.

Carla, a huge crowd favorite during her performances on the Space Coast, started to learn how to walk a high-wire as a toddler. Her father, the iconic Karl Wallenda, started the Flying Wallendas in Germany before moving to the United States.

Though she appeared in the family’s shows earlier, she first walked the high-wire in the act in 1951. Both her father and her husband, Richard Guzman, died when they fell walking the wire, but she kept performing until she retired in 2017 at the age of 81.

There is no question that to stand atop a thin, wavering pole 120 feet up in the air takes guts.

Story continued below>>>

Carla Wallenda, a frequent performer over the last 15 years at the Space Coast State Fair, died March 6 at age 85 from natural causes in Sarasota, Florida. At the Space Coast State Fair in Viera, Florida, in 205, Wallenda clambered up to the 120-foot pole not once, but several times a day. If the wind was cooperating, she would stand on her head.

It takes unbridled fearlessness to swing from the top of that pole or to stand on your head way up there, so far away from the safety of the earth. Attempting that feat on a daily basis when you’re in your 80s is nothing short of jaw-dropping amazing.

Carla did just that for a living. Wallenda clambered up the 120-foot pole not once, but several times a day. If the wind was cooperating, she would stand on her head.

If it wasn’t, she would merely swing from the top with just a handmade grip standing between her and eternity.

Carla Wallenda was circus royalty and the daughter of Karl Wallenda, patriarch of the legendary Flying Wallendas. (Image for Space Coast Daily)

At an age when most people worry about tripping in the bathtub, Wallenda was flying high.

Note her last name, though, and you might better understand how she is able to achieve such feats.

Wallenda was circus royalty. The daughter of Karl Wallenda, patriarch of the legendary Flying Wallendas, Carla represented the crème de la crème of daredevil performers.

She, like the rest of her family, was incredibly nimble, lion-hearted and willing to accept the high price that is part of defying gravity as a job.

Carla Wallenda, age 6, watches Ringling Circus clown Lou Jacobs in 1941 as he models a putty nose. (State Archives of Florida image)

Tightrope Artist By Age 3

Karl Wallenda repeatedly told his family not to worry about their dangerous profession, that when their time came to die, it would come, regardless of whether they were up in the air navigating a bicycle on a ridiculously thin piece of metal wire or sitting in front of the television munching on potato chips.

Karl’s time came March 22, 1978, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as the 73-year-old attempted to walk the wire strung 10 stories high between the towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel. The world took notice and condolences poured in, everywhere from New York City to a remote African village.

To be a Wallenda is to be courageous, even from the start. Karl first introduced his daughter to the high wire when Carla was six weeks old.

“He was on a bike on the wire, and Mom was sitting on his shoulders carrying me,” said Carla.

By the age of three, Carla was already a tightrope artist. She took to the sway pole as a way to honor the memory of her aunt, Rietta, who fell to her death in 1963 from the very same pole Carla now uses.

“I idolized her and the act,” says Carla.

“We were very close. She was my mother’s sister, who married my father’s brother. She had been complaining of neck pain and we think she must have experienced a pinched nerve and just passed out because she did a headstand and just fell over backward without even trying to grab onto anything.”

“Girls of the Iron Jaw Carousel” includes Carla who is pictured at far left in the 1950s. (State Archives of Florida image)

German-born Karl was a no-nonsense father, who expected his clan to follow in his daredevil footsteps. The kids were weaned on wire two feet off the ground.

“When we mastered that, he would tell us that next week we were going to get a raise,” said Carla.

They did, indeed, as the wire kept inching up until it was 30 feet from the ground. “Safety net” was never in the Wallenda vocabulary.

“If you have a net you take stupid chances and you don’t fall off right,” explained Mike Morgan, Carla’s husband of 35 years. “I agree with the family philosophy.”

CARLA WALENDA, above center, was an inspiration to the more than 250 seniors who attended Seniors Day at the Space Coast State Fair in 2015, which has a three-decades-long tradition of treating area seniors from assisted living and rehabilitation centers to a special day at the fair. The seniors are paired up with a Brevard County high school student who then helps their charge through a day that includes exclusive performances and a specially prepared lunch.
The Wallenda family in Mexico City, 1969, from left, Tino Wallenda, Richard “Chico” Guzman, Carla Wallenda, Rick Wallenda and Karl Wallenda.  (Image Courtesy Wallenda Family)

In old publicity photographs, Carla is the only woman among the cadre of Wallenda men who performed what was the troupe’s most incredible and death-defying of acts, the seven-person pyramid.

She would clamber up the shoulders of her relatives to the very top, the star of the pyramid. It was only by chance that she was not on the pyramid the day in 1962 when one of the men on the wire faltered and the pyramid collapsed, killing two of the Wallenda men and paralyzing Carla’s younger brother.

The world has changed dramatically since the Wallendas graced this 1928 poster for the Madison Square Garden performances of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

Superhuman Effort

The Wallendas’ ability to look at tragedy without blinking is almost superhuman. When other people retreat, the Wallendas keep marching.  Carla saw her first husband, Richard “Chico” Guzman, get electrocuted in 1972 during a performance.

“There had been some bad weather and the wires had gotten moved around,” she says. “Chico was wearing a metallic tuxedo jacket and the electricity arced out and killed him.”

The death of her first husband, her aunt and her father did not stopped Carla. It was their time, as Karl would have put it.

The world has changed dramatically since the Wallendas graced a 1928 poster for the Madison Square Garden performances of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.

“The last few years have gotten very difficult,” said Carla in 2014. “A lot of the circuses and the state fairs have gone belly up and the others can’t afford big-name entertainment. The others are looking for Broadway-type of productions.”

Carla said with a smile that she was forced to carry liability, not for herself, but rather to cover the audience, should anyone have a heart attack while she is performing.

Up there on the pole, with birds for neighbors, life was as it should be for Carla Wallenda.

“When it’s your time, you are going to die, no matter what you’re doing,” said Carla.

CARLA AND MIKE IN 2013, in their working attire above right, and at left, in the RV which was home-away-from-home while on the road for the couple and their rescued terrier mix, Buddy.
Because Carla Wallenda suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, she took an extra minute on her way up the sway pole to catch her breath during a performance in 2015 at Space Coast Daily Park in Viera. “You just can’t climb as fast with emphysema, but once I’m up there, I’m fine,” she explained at the time.
BESIDE BEING one of the most unique aerial acrobats on the globe, Carla Wallenda was a magnetic personality with both young and old. Above, Carla performed for the more than 250 seniors who came out for Senior Day at the Space Coast State Fair in 2013. Ironically, she was older than many of the attendees.
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