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Death-Defying Job

Rick LeFevour isn’t afraid of jumping from a building or being involved in a high-speed car chase. For him, it’s all part of a day’s work.

Leaping from skyscrapers, entering burning buildings and getting into barroom brawls are just part of an average day at work for Rick LeFevour. A Hollywood stunt man, the Woodstock resident’s job is anything but typical.

After nearly 40 years of performing stunt work, LeFevour has done it all, working on countless movie sets including “Wanted,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Blues Brothers,” “Risky Business,” “Backdraft,” “Ladder 49,” all three “Home Alone” movies and a 15-year stint on the television show “ER.” He’s also the guy who leaped off a five-story tower in place of Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” filmed in Woodstock.

It’s what he was meant to do.

“As a kid, I had this wild imagination,” said LeFevour, who grew up on Chicago’s West Side. “For me, it all came true. I get to do car chases. I get to fight Batman.”

Taking a fall, or a punch, for Hollywood stars becomes just part of the job that has taken him to Africa, Mexico and all over the United States. As founder of the Midwest Stunt Association, LeFevour hires out stunt men and women from the Chicago and Wisconsin areas for movies.

“A lot of times, I’m the stunt coordinator [on movie sets],” he said.

Getting Roped into the Business

A love for horses got LeFevour started in the stunt business. As a 15-year-old boy, he went to a wild horse roundup in South Dakota where he met a champion rodeo cowboy. There, he became involved in rodeos and was an extra in movies—even getting his picture in a Marlboro ad. At his young age, he could only have his back to the camera with a fake cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.

In 1973, a Wild West rodeo and stunt show took LeFevour to Japan for a year. He relocated to Los Angeles for a few years after that for work. He eventually moved back to the Chicago area and began working as a stuntman in movies filmed in this area.

“The movie industry took off in Chicago in the early ’80s,” he said.

The job has taken him from Chicago to movie sets around the country and the world with a chance every time that he’ll be gone for weeks or months. Working on “Ladder 49” kept him away from home four straight months. When he gets a call about a job, he might have to start immediately.

“Sometimes I’m on a plane the next day,” he said.

“As a kid, I had this wild imagination,” said LeFevour, who grew up on Chicago’s West Side. “For me, it all came true. I get to do car chases. I get to fight Batman.”

LeFevour’s love for the rodeo got him into a business that’s “tough to get in and tough to get started,” he said. “If you talk to 10 different stunt people you’ll get 10 different ways of how they got started.”

Some get their agility from a martial arts or gymnastics background. While LeFevour was an athlete in school, playing football, baseball and hockey, the rodeo is what helped him prepare for the job.

“That was more like a one-on-one,” he said. “You had to focus on yourself and what you were doing at that moment.”

On-the-Job Training

Learning how to take a punch—or a 100-foot fall and make your mark—comes with experience.

“You’ve got to focus on your mark,” LeFevour said. “You don’t have time to think about it; it happens so fast.”

Learning how to perform stunts happens on the movie set, he said, adding, “everyone starts out doing extras. You kind of get trained.”

And every stunt person has their strengths and needs to know their limitations, he said.

“You’ve got to be honest with yourself,” he said about the types of stunts you can see yourself doing.

Some people are afraid of heights, he said, and “some guys can’t throw a punch, but they can do a 100-foot-high fall. You’ve got to know yourself.”

Getting hurt is not common but it does happen, he said.

“None of us has a death wish,” he said. “We all want to go to work every day.”

Fire and high falls are the most dangerous stunts, he said, adding, “if they go wrong, they’re probably fatal.”

Computer-generated images are used in some cases, but it is still cheaper for movie studios to use real stunts, he said.

“Any fire you saw in the past is real fire,” LeFevour said, with stunt people coated with protective gel among other precautions.

Now, some of the fire in movies is computer-generated.


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