Alain Robert: Spiderman
At this very moment (7:42pm GMT, March 29th 2011), Alain Robert – the French Spiderman – is in the process of scaling the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s highly intimidating Burj Khalifa.
It is surely an act of madness, but such behaviour is not unusual for this 48-year-old madman-come-superhero. Since he scaled the Empire State Building back in 1994 he has conquered most of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, often without ropes! Here he is in action on the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur in 2009:
That was Robert’s third attempt to scale the Towers, having been arrested at the 60th floor on two previous efforts in 1997 and 2007. But Robert doesn’t climb merely for the sneakery of it. He often uses his climbs to publicise causes, such as in 2008 when he unfurled a banner on the side of the New York Times Building which read, “Global warming kills more people than 9/11 every week.”
Having the world’s media hanging on his every upward move has also proved understandably lucrative. In May 2003, Robert was paid about $18,000 to climb the Lloyd’s building in London dressed as the other Spiderman, to promote the premiere of the film on Sky Movies.
Robert spends so much time hanging onto the side of buildings by his fingers, that he is physically unable to straighten them out. And that’s not the only effect that climbing has had on his body. When his abseiling rope came undone in 1982, he fell 15 metres, leaving him in a coma for five days with both his forearms, his elbow, pelvis and nose fractured. Amazingly, the accident also left him partially paralyzed and suffering from vertigo! Well, neither issue seems to have overly hampered him…
He has also fallen when demonstrating an easy 8-metre climb to students (he was doing it with no hands!) and when climbing 2 metres up a traffic light for a press photo (he needed 40 stitches). A month later, he climbed the then world’s tallest skyscraper, Taipei 101 (508 metres). He didn’t fall that time.
The Burj Khalifa is the ultimate challenge for Robert. At 828 metres and 160 stories, it dwarfs his other conquests; the Spiderman expects the climb to take about six or seven hours. This time the climb is officially organised, so it has been insisted that he use a safety rope. On the upside, it means he won’t need to be escorted to a police cell as soon as he reaches the top, although that never seemed to bother him too much:
Fortunately, the courts discharged me every time after they understood what I had done.
– Alain Robert, Spiderman