James Miller (parachutist)
|Born||James Jarret Miller
October 28, 1963
Havre de Grace, Maryland, U.S.
|Disappeared||September 22, 2002 (aged 38)
Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
|Cause of death||Suicide by hanging|
|Body discovered||March 9, 2003, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska|
|Alma mater||University of Alaska at Juneau|
James Jarrett Miller (October 28, 1963 – c. September 22, 2002), also known as Fan Man, was a successful American parachutist and paraglider pilot known for his appearances at various sporting events. His most infamous appearance was the November 6, 1993 boxing match between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas.
Miller was born in Havre de Grace, Maryland. He had three brothers. In 1975, the Miller family moved to a country home near the Canada–United States border. The following year, the family relocated to Tok, Alaska. Miller later earned an associate degree in computer programming from the University of Alaska at Juneau. In the late 1980s, he moved to Las Vegas where he was introduced to paragliders.
Miller had been interested in flying since childhood and quickly became a paragliding enthusiast. He started with a jetpack tied to his back, and moved up to two-cycle aircraft engines which powered him through the skies above the desert. He began setting power-gliding records for altitude and distance, with a reputation for reckless daring.
The Fan Man fight
Miller's first and most famous stunt happened on November 6, 1993 during the heavyweight title fight between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield. Miller descended into the side of the ring area during the second minute of the seventh round of the fight, after circling Caesars Palace for ten minutes. The lines of his paraglider became tangled in the overhead lights, after which he landed on the top rope of the ring with his parachute still tangled in the lights. He tried to hang on with one foot and one hand on that top rope for a few seconds until he either fell or was dragged down into the crowd by spectators, his parachute ripping away from the lights above.
Fans and the fighters' security detail swarmed around him immediately and began attacking him. He was knocked unconscious during the attack. One security officer reportedly struck Miller twenty times. He was rushed to a nearby hospital as spectators cut his paraglider into pieces for souvenirs. After his release from the hospital, Miller was taken to the Clark County Detention Center, where he was charged with dangerous flying and released on $200 bail. In an exclusive interview with British journalists after the bout, Miller categorized his ring crash as accidental and not intentional, claiming it was caused by mechanical problems. Miller later joked, "It was a heavyweight fight and I was the only guy who got knocked out."
The media immediately dubbed Miller "Fan Man," for the paramotor (lightweight engine and propeller) attached to his harness.
On January 9, 1994, Miller circled approximately 1,000 feet over the rim of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on his paraglider during the Denver Broncos-Los Angeles Raiders NFL playoff game. He landed in a park north of the Coliseum where he was arrested for interfering with a sporting event. After the game, Raiders defensive end Howie Long said that had Miller landed in the stands, he would have received a beating even more severe than the one he endured in Las Vegas due to Raider Nation's notorious raucousness. "Magnify that beating tenfold. That's what he would have gotten here," Long said.
Later that same month, he skydove into the middle of a Bolton Wanderers-Arsenal 4th round FA Cup soccer match at Burnden Park in Bolton, England. After serving a seven-day prison sentence, Miller was deported by British authorities.
Miller soon returned to the UK. On February 5, he was witnessed by police paragliding along The Mall before landing atop Buckingham Palace. He then removed his pants revealing that he was painted green from the waist down. He was arrested without incident, fined £200 and was again deported. He was banned from reentering the UK for life.
When asked by reporters what his motives were for staging these stunts, Miller never gave clear answers. He later admitted that he intentionally landed in the ring to break up the Bowe vs. Holyfield match claiming he was opposed to violence. Miller's younger brother later said Miller staged the stunts because, "He was basically bucking society. He was mocking our rules, making up his own as he went along, kind of just making a mockery of our society and the way it works and what our expectations are."
Later years and death
After returning to the United States, Miller received death threats for interrupting sporting events. In 1996, he relocated to Valdez, Alaska where he lived in a hut with no indoor plumbing. He continued to fly ultralight aircraft and paragliders in the Alaskan wilderness and also gave lessons. Miller briefly worked for a computer company before opening his own computer business. In 2001, he was diagnosed with coronary artery disease and underwent double bypass surgery. There were complications and Miller developed health issues. He underwent two additional surgeries to correct issues caused by the first surgery, but continued to experience constant chest pains and ill health. Miller was unable to continue flying, paragliding and hiking because of his declining health. Due to mounting debts from medical bills, Miller was forced to close his computer business. He moved to Anchorage in 2002 where he worked for a utility company.
On September 22, 2002, Miller was reported missing after he disappeared earlier that morning while driving to the wilderness. His car was found near the Resurrection Pass Trail in Chugach National Forest on the Kenai Peninsula. A search was launched but was suspended on October 13. On March 9, 2003, a group of hunters bushwhacking through the woods on the peninsula found Miller's decomposing body. An autopsy revealed that Miller had hanged himself from a tree. Police said they believed Miller had chosen the remote Resurrection Pass Trail and had veered deep off-trail in hopes that his body would not have been discovered for years, if ever. At the time of his death, Miller's girlfriend was pregnant with the couple's first child. She gave birth to their son shortly before Miller's body was discovered in March 2003.
Although Miller's disappearance and death were reported in the local press shortly after his body was found, his suicide did not become widely known outside Alaska until the latter part of 2003 when ESPN went searching for him to film a SportsCenter feature to be shown during the tenth anniversary of his stunt.
In popular culture
- Fox Sports Net ranked Miller crashing into the boxing ring during the Bowe vs. Holyfield match as its #1 "Most Outrageous Sports Moment".
- An animated version of "Fan Man" appears in The Simpsons episode "The Homer They Fall".
- Joling, Dan (March 23, 2003). "Death claims flamboyant Fan Man". peninsulaclarion.com. Archived from the original on February 15, 2005. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
- "Obituary". Anchorage Daily News. March 21, 2003.
- "Fan Man says landing was accidental". Herald-Journal. November 11, 1993. p. D2.
- Davies, Caroline (April 3, 2003). "Deported Palace paraglider kills himself in Alaska". telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
- "Glider buzzes Raiders game". Lodi News-Sentinel. January 10, 1994. p. 15. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
- King, Peter (January 17, 1994). "Grudge Match". sportsillustrated.cnn.com. Archived from the original on March 16, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
- "The 30 most outrageous sporting moments". The Guardian. London.
- "Half-naked American lands on palace roof". The Tuscaloosa News. February 6, 1994. p. 5A. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
- "Buckingham Palace: previous security breaches". telegraph.co.uk. May 24, 2009. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
- Tizon, Tomas Alex (March 6, 2005). "Alaska: the land of the lost" (http). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 28, 2006.
- Meyer, George (2006). The Simpsons season 8 DVD commentary for the episode "The Homer They Fall" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.