Niagara Gazette

October 31, 2013

Jay Cochrane 'The Prince of Air' succumbs to cancer

Staff and wire reports
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — TORONTO — Canadian tightrope walker Jay Cochrane, who set two world records including one in 1972 for walking back and forth 2.5 miles above the Canadian National Exhibition, has died.

Cochrane died Wednesday in Niagara Falls, Ont., at age 69 of pancreatic cancer, according to a tribute to Cochrane dubbed "The Prince of the Air."

In recent years, Cochrane performed several high-wire acts in Niagara Falls, including a 228-meter (249.4-yard) high walk on a tightrope in 2012 at the age of 68.

Whenever Cochrane performed, he used his shows as a venue to raise money for children’s charities. In Niagara Falls, after his shows, he would meet fans on Fallsview Blvd., where he would sign autographs, sell DVDs and solicit donations to charities, including the Tender Wishes Foundation, which grants wishes to dying children and their families, and to the Boys and Girls Club of Niagara, which runs recreational programs for kids.

Wayne Thomson, who was mayor when Cochrane tried to get approvals to walk over Niagara Falls, called him “a true friend” whose feats were “spectacular.”

“I doubt that anybody else could have accomplished what he did. He was so talented and confident at what he did, it was just amazing,” Thomson said Wednesday after learning the news.

Cochrane's greatest achievement was in 1995 when he walked more than 2,100 feet over the Yangtze River in China from a height of 375 feet. The event, before a crowd of 200,000 people, made Cochrane a legend in China. His likeness appeared on a Chinese stamp and a school was named in his honor.

Cochrane was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1944 and grew up in the northern Ontario towns of North Bay and Sudbury. The tribute, written by friend Shane Peacock, says Cochrane became enamored by tightrope walking at the age of eight and ran away from home at 14 to begin his long career.

But that career began painfully, when in 1965, a tightrope at Varsity Stadium in Toronto collapsed and he suffered a broken pelvis, two broken legs and other fractures and was told he would never walk again.

Cochrane recovered by 1970, however, and ascended his first "skywire" 40 stories high between two skyscrapers to help mark the opening of the Hudson Bay Centre tower in Toronto.

Two years later, Cochrane set a world record when he walked back and forth at the Canadian National Exhibition, also in Toronto.

In 1981, Cochrane set a second world record by living on a high wire for 21 days in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Niagara Falls, Ont., Review and The Associated Press contributed to this report.