Ken Carter (stuntman)
Kenneth Gordon Polsjek
|Died||September 5, 1983 (aged 44–45)|
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
|Cause of death||Car crash|
|Other names||The Mad Canadian|
Ken Carter (1938 – September 5, 1983), born Kenneth Gordon Polsjek, was a Canadian stunt driver.
Carter was born in Montreal, Quebec and grew up in a working-class neighborhood. With little education, he dropped out of school to perform car stunts with a team of traveling daredevils. Subsequently, he began performing as a solo act, and he jumped at racetracks all over North America. He became a notorious showman, earning the nickname "The Mad Canadian" for his death-defying antics.
St. Lawrence River jump
In 1976, after 20 years of car jumps, Carter launched his most ambitious project: an attempt to jump over the St Lawrence River—a distance of over one mile—in a rocket-powered Lincoln Continental. The preparations for the jump were the subject of a documentary called The Devil at Your Heels, directed by Robert Fortier and produced by the National Film Board of Canada.
For months, Carter prepared his car and looked for sponsors. Eventually, U.S. broadcaster ABC gave him $250,000 to air the stunt on the episode of Wide World of Sports scheduled for September 25, 1976. Carter anticipated a live audience of 100,000. Construction of a 1,400-foot takeoff ramp began on fifty acres of farmland near Morrisburg, Ontario. Evel Knievel visited the site as a special correspondent for ABC and concluded that there was little chance of success. Delays in finishing the car and completing the ramp caused Carter to miss the broadcast date and ABC withdrew its support.
Carter resumed preparations the following year and again in 1978, but the jump was cancelled both times. On September 26, 1979, Carter got to within five seconds of takeoff before aborting the jump following a mechanical failure. The planned jump had been sponsored by a film producer in exchange for exclusive film rights. Believing that Carter had lost his nerve, the film crew secretly arranged for another stunt driver, American Kenny Powers, to perform the jump while Carter was in his hotel room in Ottawa, Ontario. The Powers jump was a failure, with the car travelling only 506 feet in the air and breaking apart in flight before crash-landing in the water. Powers broke eight vertebrae, three ribs and fractured a wrist. Interviewed after the jump, Carter said that Powers was unprepared to do the jump and could have been killed.
According to The Devil at Your Heels, Powers was chosen to do the jump at the last minute due to health concerns about Carter. Powers and Donna Boyle Powers Ray also verified this story to Beverly Plumley Powers. Carter still wanted to do the jump. Powers carried an 8"x10" photograph of Carter in a portfolio at all times; the two were friends until Carter's death.
Peterborough jump and death
Carter returned to stunt driving and on July 1, 1983 attempted to jump a pond in Peterborough, Ontario. The jump failed when the start-off ramp collapsed under his car, which ended up in the water. Carter vowed to try the jump again and on September 5, 1983 made another attempt. His car, a 1982 Pontiac Firebird fitted with a homemade rocket, overshot its target landing ramp and landed on its roof. Carter was killed instantly. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Montreal.
A 2016 musical docudrama by John Bolton, Aim for the Roses, documents an album created by Mark Haney that was inspired by Ken Carter. It includes scenes from The Devil at Your Heels, and also shows footage from events after the St. Lawrence jump including Carter's fatal crash at Peterborough.
- IMDB: The Devil at Your Heels (October 1981)
- (13 October 1979). Rocket car jump 'the wildest ride of my life': Driver, Montreal Gazette (Associated Press)
- "Heavyweight Podcast Episode #13: Kenny". www.gimletmedia.com.
- (6 September 1983). Stuntman Ken Carter dies in rocket-car wreck, Ottawa Citizen
- IMDB: Aim for the Roses (May 2016)