With a movie release due later this year, Michael Odell of Esquire takes a look at the story of the mysterious masked daredevil who attempted to jump 26 buses, then vanished.
In 2004, Ky Michaelson achieved a lifelong ambition by launching a homemade rocket 72 miles into space. It was the world’s first successful civilian space launch but, he says, only his second most nerve-wracking project in a rocket-building career spanning 50 years.
Michaelson doesn’t much like the description “rocket scientist”, and he doesn’t much look like one, either. With his big frame and bullish, folksy manner, he’s too earthy for a wrap-around headset and a seat at Mission Control. Also, Michaelson’s rockets don’t tend to carry traditional payloads: satellites, orbiting labs, telescopes, and so on.
They carry envelope-pushers, endorphin junkies, record-breakers – stuntmen and daredevils. His home-built rocket-powered bikes, cars, snowmobiles, even roller skates, have set more than 70 speed records.
“I’m not cavalier, though. You can’t be. I like my customers to live,” he says. “And I like my vehicles to make it back to the garage in one piece. That’s a good day in the office, as far as I am concerned.”
As well as his rocket-powered contraptions, Michaelson built stunt gear like the decelerator, a safety chord device that enabled stuntmen to jump off buildings without the need for airbags on the ground.
The 1985 film adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Stick, starring Burt Reynolds, boasts a still-revered fall by Michaelson’s stuntman friend and collaborator Dar Robinson: Robinson tumbles from a tall building, firing his gun upwards as he falls all the way to the ground. “A benchmark at the time,” Robinson says.
He’s justifiably proud of his record. And really, the world of stunts is a small one. You soon get to know who is serious and committed. And who you can trust with a rocket.
That’s why Michaelson turns sombre and shakes his head in bafflement when remembering his most nerve-shredding launch. It was 35 years ago, but he re-lives it like it was yesterday.
“That whole Human Fly adventure was scary. And generally I don’t scare easily,” he says.
In early 1977, Michaelson took a phone call from a man asking him to build a rocket-powered motorbike that would assist him in his quest to become not just a pre-eminent stuntman, but a real-life superhero.
The man said he had lots of plans, including strapping himself to the side of a rocket and blasting across the English Channel. But for starters, he wanted to beat a world record set by legendary stuntman Evel Knievel, who, two years previously, had jumped over 13 buses in front of a capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium. Actually, he didn’t just want to beat it. He wanted to triple it.
“He wanted to jump 36 buses. I talked him down to 26,” Michaelson shrugs. “The math was crazy. The math was done by a lunatic.”
And here in Michaelson’s Minneapolis workshop, which doubles as a museum (several of his contraptions are on display) and home, sits the rocket bike in question: a Seventies Harley-Davidson XL 1000 Sportster, a beautiful red and chrome machine.
Its factory-standard top speed would usually be 130mph. But with Michaelson’s twin hydrogen peroxide rockets mounted under the fuel tank producing 15,000N/kg of thrust, its top end was boosted to 300mph.
The story of that mysterious phone call and the events that followed are now part of Seventies stuntman folklore. After taking delivery of Michaelson’s rocket-powered Harley, an anonymous, masked man calling himself The Human Fly – who claimed to be 60 per cent steel parts and a real-life superhero — performed a series of death-defying stunts.
The first had nothing whatever to do with the rocket bike, but his last and greatest one certainly did. The Fly was feted on prime-time American TV and even became the subject of his own monthly Marvel comic, before that disastrous attempt to surpass Knievel’s bus-leap put him in hospital. And then he vanished.
Now The Human Fly’s story is to be the subject of a Hollywood movie. Montreal-based screenwriter Tony Babinski – along with his brother Bob, a former investigative reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and now lecturer in journalism at Concordia University, Minnesota – have been looking at the story of The Human Fly for the past 10 years. What began as an idea for a TV documentary soon showed far more potential.
“Every time we thought we were getting nearer the truth, there’d be another twist which just seemed too insane to be credible,” Tony Babinski says. “But there’s something in this peculiar story that resonates with everyone who has risked their neck for a dream, or watched in horror as someone else did it.”
The night of that ill-fated final jump at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, The Human Fly crash-landed three or four buses short of the receiving ramp and Michaelson’s $60,000 bike (at today’s prices) landed on top of him, while Michaelson and his team looked on in horror.
Though paramedics raced to the scene, and The Fly was stretchered off to hospital with many fearing the worst, no one has ever found out what happened to the masked daredevil. The Human Fly disappeared from public view that night.
So who was The Fly? And who was financing his bid for glory? And why? And were the circumstances around his disappearance as sinister as some people suspect?
“I’ve been in this business 50 years. The Fly is as weird as it got,” Michaelson says. “He wanted to be a superhero. But to this day, I believe that other people wanted him dead.”
Rocket man: inventor and engineer Ky Michaelson (centre), with Joe Ramacieri, The Human Fly and entourage, plus the Michaelson-built hydrogen peroxide-powered motorcycle, 1977
Felix Baumgartner’s 24-mile supersonic skydive from the stratosphere in October 2012 was a reminder of what a single act of alpha-male derring-do in a jumpsuit looks like. Perhaps the Jackass brand has also helped raise the profile of the daredevil in recent years: although not always in a good way, as incidents like Steve-O’s 2002 arrest for stapling his scrotum to his leg on stage at a Louisiana nightclub suggest.
Baumgartner’s stunt was a distinctly modern, media-managed and quasi-scientific affair. Sponsored by Red Bull and watched live by an online audience of eight million, The Daily Telegraph frothed that it was “state-of-the-art science crystallizing in branded content distributed digitally on-demand.”
You have to go back to the Seventies for the golden age of pre-health-and-safety daredevils where “sponsorship” was likely to involve a congratulatory pint in the pub or a lift to the hospital afterwards.
The late Sixties and early Seventies space missions arguably set the tone for men with The Right Stuff: those bold enough to blast off into uncharted territory, and hang the consequences.
They ranged from the daft: 1971 saw the first Birdman Rally featuring pilots in homemade flying machines throwing themselves off Selsey Pier in West Sussex in an attempt to fly 50 yards and claim a £1,000 prize (21 years later, sponsorship would take the format worldwide as “Red Bull Flugtag”), to the awe-inspiring: in 1974, French high-wire walker Philippe Petite completed his legendary tightrope journey between New York’s World Trade Center Twin Towers.
Not to be outdone, the aforementioned Dar Robinson later jumped off Toronto’s CN Tower while elsewhere motorbike daredevils like Super Joe Einhorn and Britain’s Eddie Kidd became household names (Michaelson built bikes for Einhorn). It was an era of machismo reflected in Ali/Frazier boxing bouts, heavy rock music, brutal movie cops like Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry Callahan and thrilling teatime TV stunts courtesy of The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider andThe Fall Guy.
This “no safety net, thanks” hard man culture was reflected within the era’s film industry, too. In the UK, the profession went unregulated until as late as 1974. Only then did the new British Spotlight Stunt Register make it clear that the trade wasn’t quite as easy as, well, falling off a horse.
“Being a stuntman wasn’t really a profession in the Seventies,” says Vic Armstrong, a British stunt veteran who has doubled for James Bond, Indiana Jones and Superman among many others.
“When I did my first Bond film, every cab driver, bouncer or hard man in London came down to Pinewood and took a kick in the balls for 10 quid. It’s all highly regulated now. But we were all in awe of guys like Eddie Kidd, who did film work but then built a reputation facing huge danger in one-off stunts without bothering with the narrative of a film. Crowds paid to see if the guy got hurt or not. They paid to see if he died.”
Evel Knievel, in his red, white and blue jumpsuit, was the biggest draw of the lot for precisely this reason. At one time he held The Guinness World Record for the human who had suffered the most broken bones (433) in a lifetime. But it wasn’t a Knievel crash that created a vacancy for The Human Fly. It was Knievel’s temper.
In 1975, Knievel attempted an insane and almost fatal jump across Snake River Canyon in the Magic Valley region of southern Idaho. In 1977, his publicist Shelly Saltman published an authorised follow-up book to the jump called Evel Knievel On Tour, in which he called Knievel “a pill addict, an anti-Semite and an immoral person” (he later described a day working for Knievel as “like spending three hours being drilled by the dentist without novocaine”).
Knievel – not one to believe that sticks and stones could break bones but words could never hurt – caught up with Saltman in the car park of 20th Century Fox, where the author now worked, and attacked him with a baseball bat. Saltman’s arm, raised to protect his head, was smashed. Knievel ended up in jail and lost a $12m civil lawsuit.
“Knievel going to jail was a moment of opportunity,” Tony Babinski says. “There was definitely a vacancy for people with vision and ambition. It’s just that you couldn’t have guessed those people would be two guys working in a Canadian sausage factory.”
Les Aliments Roma, in Montreal, make some of the best sausages in Canada. The pepperoni is particularly well thought of: the Ramacieri family have been churning the stuff out for nearly 60 years.
But in 1974, 23-year-old Giuseppe Ramacieri, aka “Joe”, and his 28-year-old brother Dominic – who’d been promoted in the family business by their stern, traditional father Pasquale – wanted to leave the world of sausage-making and do something more exciting instead.
“I’ve been making sausages by hand from the age of six,” Joe Ramacieri told a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter during a mid-Seventies interview (he died from cancer in 2007). “From the age of 13, I was saying to my brothers, ‘I’ve got to do something else’.”
Joe fancied himself as a musician and showed promise in piano lessons, though his father took steps to ensure this didn’t stand in the way of a career in the meat industry.
“My father told me he paid the teacher to hit me, to turn me off music. He thought I was going to end up in the nightclubs,” Ramacieri claimed.
“Pasquale was old-school,” Ramacieri’s widow Denise says, today. “But Joe was a dreamer. He always had ideas about making it and becoming famous.”
Joe Ramacieri was intrigued by the idea of Evel Knievel’s superstardom. But if anything, he found his achievements a little tame. What if they found a guy who could go further? What if they created a real-life superhero like the ones in the comics he’d read as a boy?
Neither Joe nor his brother Dominic owned or rode a motorbike, let alone could leap over a bus while riding one. But they knew someone who might. A new guy in town, a chancer who talked big and who owed one of their cousins some money. He was called Rick Rojatt.
“Rick was an idiot,” Denise Ramacieri says. “Not devious or bad. But definitely an idiot. As far as I know, he had no experience riding motorbikes either.”
The 29-year-old Rojatt seemed to be just as much a stifled fantasist as Joe Ramacieri. When people asked what he was doing in Montreal, he told them he used to work in the ape house, at a zoo in Florida.
One day, a female gorilla, who had been suffering a heavy period, got angry and threw him across the enclosure, he claimed. He said he was so badly injured he was full of metal plates. He left Florida and picked up work where he could.
Denise Ramacieri didn’t take Rojatt’s talk too seriously and assumed her husband didn’t either. She was in for a shock. Joe told Denise he wanted to work with Rojatt on his superhero idea. What’s more, in order to finance his venture he wanted to sell their house in the upscale section of Mount Royal and move them to a smaller place in the then-less-desirable Saint-Laurent part of town.
Joe Ramacieri raised $200,000 out of the business and family finances to fund his project and started Human Fly Spectaculars Ltd. Denise Ramacieri was 21 years old at the time, with two young children and pregnant with a third.
“I thought you had to be retarded in some way to want to jump over things on a bike. But… I felt I had to support my husband,” Denise says. “If I looked at all skeptical he’d say, ‘Don’t crush my dreams’. But yes, watching my husband sell the family home so some idiot could do crazy things was hard to swallow.”
Window or aisle seat?: The Human Fly (Rick Rojatt) performs his jet-riding stunt in Mojave, 1976. Rojatt was later sent to hospital after being battered by raindrops while travelling at 250mph
Clay Lacy is a world-renowned pilot who’s flown stunts and aerobatics and reputedly logged more flying hours than any other pilot alive. His cinema credits include Top Gun and today he runs his private jet company Clay Lacy Aviation based in Van Nuys, California.
In early 1976, he got a call asking if he’d pilot a DC-8 jetliner at an air show in California and was more than happy to take on the extra freelance work. But he was more skeptical when he was told his plane would carry just one passenger. And his skepticism only increased when he learned this passenger would not be inside the plane, but strapped to the fuselage. Not only that but the man claimed to be “the greatest superhero that ever lived” and would therefore be wearing a jumpsuit and sequined mask.
“I knew it wasn’t exactly going to advance air travel, which, as a test pilot, was my interest. But I was certainly curious,” Lacy observed.
“You couldn’t do that today,” Tony Babinski says. “You can’t just hire a jet and do whatever the hell you want. But this was the Seventies and there were extraordinary freedoms.”
On 19 June that year, Lacy taxied out a former Japan Airlines DC-8 at the Mojave 1000 Air Race with Rick Rojatt strapped to a post on the plane’s fuselage.
Lacy flew the plane past spectators, mere feet from the ground. Preparing for a second attempted fly-past, the plane passed briefly through cloud with Rojatt being pummeled by rain at 250mph.
“He was in a little bit of rain,” Lacy admitted in an interview after the stunt. “Actually, they were big raindrops. When they started hitting it sounded like golf balls. It really beat him up; he said they felt like bullets.”
Upon landing, Rojatt went to hospital, surely one of the few people ever to enter an emergency room presenting rain injuries. Nevertheless, the stunt was a success and widely reported on American TV. Against all odds, it seemed Joe Ramacieri’s creative talents were not going to be wasted making sausages.
“It was exciting. It was one of the few times I thought: ‘Maybe the boys aren’t crazy’,” recalls Denise. “‘Joe can do this. He can make things happen’.”
During the summer and autumn of 1976, The Human Fly became a staple of prime-time US show That’s Incredible! and Canadian show Headline Hunters, and even appeared in character in the TV movie The Beach Boys: It’s OK, alongside John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.
The Fly was not required to perform further stunts on these shows, merely talk about them. And inevitably – still masked and anonymous – he was required to explain the circumstances by which he’d become a superhero.
Coincidentally, Joe Ramacieri’s back room management was already working wonders in this department. Marvel Comics, the home of Spider-Man, Captain America and Thor, wanted to license a comic strip about The Human Fly.
A deal was agreed and though Marvel executive editor and historian Tom Brevoort speculates that little money changed hands, it gave The Fly huge credibility. (Curiously, the person charged with delivering cheques and artwork back and forth between Marvel and Ramacieri was a young Cyndi Lauper.)
Marvel writer Bill Mantlo, who had worked on The Incredible Hulk and The Spectacular Spider-Man, was tasked with reverse-engineering a backstory for the new superhero.
“Let’s backtrack a little and catch a glimpse of where this zany ambition began,” Mantlo’s account began, in the first issue of The Human Fly. “We’ll have to start with an automobile accident sometime in the early Seventies. An accident so serious it took four years of hospitalisation and only after all the bones in both legs and hips were completely crushed; half the stomach removed; and both arms shredded to uselessness; that he could honestly aspire to be the greatest daredevil of all time! Out of these surroundings, the concept grew of The Human Fly. And he would be it. To everyone’s amazement he walked out of the hospital a man, but a man remade of steel in 60 per cent of his body. Obviously there is no stopping this man.”
With Joe Ramacieri busy managing The Fly’s business career, Rojatt was off the leash, feeling able to enhance the story further when interviewed in the US magazine People. He said the car crash had been in North Carolina and it had killed his wife and their four-year-old daughter.
He claimed he’d undergone 38 operations in four years to eventually allow him to walk again. Furthermore, he explained his fitness regime consisted of rising at 3am, running six miles and then plunging into a bathtub full of ice cubes.
Back in the real world, all the public attention meant that details of Rick Rojatt’s true-life story were beginning to emerge. Rojatt had claimed to People that, prior to his car crash, he had worked as a Hollywood stuntman – but they could find no record of this. More disturbingly, one day Denise Ramacieri took a call at her house from a distressed woman in Florida.
“This lady told me she recognised Rick from the TV,” she says. “She said his mouth looked familiar because he wasn’t wearing his false teeth, which were still by her bed. She said Rick was her husband and he had walked out and left her with two children and owed her alimony. She was very upset and added that her father was very, very angry and was planning to come find Rick and kill him.”
Joe Ramacieri was undeterred, even though he seemed to understand full well what type of man he was dealing with.
“Of course, I thought he [Rojatt] was a con artist,” he told Babinski. “I thought, ‘If it goes wrong, I’ll throw him in the lake and get another one’.”
After the plane stunt, a five-year plan for the newly established Human Fly brand had emerged. There was talk of a jump from Toronto’s CN Tower into 20ft of water.
The crowning glory would see The Fly strapped to the side of a rocket that would fly across the English Channel from England to France. And, in keeping with the Marvel backstory and prevailing superhero ethics of the time, the proceeds from all these stunts would go towards “finding a cure for the world’s disabled”. Though perhaps The Human Fly wasn’t looking for a cure quite as hard as he might.
“There are stories of the guy being surrounded by admiring women and having sex while still wearing his costume,” Babinski says. “Joe also told me that he and his brother Dominic would go to The Fly’s apartment and find the bathtub filled with ice – as per his stated 3am exercise regime. When they asked why, he said: ‘My muscles hurt from working out, it’s to make the pain go away.’ Then, one day they came back and found the tub filled with beer. It was LA in the Seventies – sex, booze and drugs were everywhere. And, somehow, a superhero costume helped you score.”
Ramacieri wasn’t about to lose his Fly to a bout of rock-star hedonism. He took steps to ensure his creation’s future against the waywardness of Rojatt. One day, Denise Ramacieri was in the house when a door-to-door salesman called. He was young, handsome and blue-eyed. He wanted to sell her a vacuum cleaner. Denise had no need of one, but Joe Ramacieri asked him in anyway.
“I heard my husband in the hallway ask this young guy, ‘If I put you in a costume do you think you could do some work for me? You’ll be working with kids and I’ll pay you and give you travel expenses.’ He was asking this salesman to be The Human Fly. And he did it, too. He visited the kids at the children’s hospital in Montreal.”
It is not clear how many Flys there actually were. But it seems possible any number may have undertaken hospital visits and media appearances.
“I listen to The Human Fly being interviewed and I certainly hear different voices,” says Steven Goldmann, director of the upcoming movie, The Human Fly. “When you think about it, it’s a very modern and forward-thinking attitude to celebrity. Why risk a prima donna? Why not have an interchangeable team of guys in masks?”
With his fame at a peak, but with only the DC-8 stunt under their belts, Ramacieri knew The Fly needed to pull off something equally eye-catching. Evel Knievel’s reputation was in tatters but his bus-jump record still stood. The Human Fly would have to beat it – and in showbiz style.
In the summer of 1977, punk rock may have raged in the UK but disco reigned in Canada. Ramacieri booked a slot at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on a night when Gloria Gaynor and a host of then-hot disco stars were due to perform. The Fly’s jump would form the pre-show entertainment.
That’s when Ky Michaelson received that first troubling phone call asking if he could build a rocket-powered Harley-Davidson capable of making an epic jump.
“When I’d built the bike, the natural thing was to test it,” Michaelson recalls. “But the guy on the phone said, ‘No one tests that bike. That bike belongs to us. We’re coming to collect’.”
And so Ramacieri and some friends came to get their rocket-powered Harley from Michaelson’s workshop. Michaelson is unsure whether any of the men present was actually The Fly. But he vividly recalls that he and Dar Robinson travelled to Montreal where they stayed for nine days preparing for the jump with The Fly’s entourage.
Robinson was himself an elite film stuntman who had doubled for Steve McQueen in Papillon and ridden motorbikes in Clint Eastwood’s Magnum Force. (Robinson died making a film in 1986 after riding his motorbike off a cliff.) But in Montreal, Robinson was acting as Michaelson’s safety advisor, fitting safety airbags and a net so that “The Fly would not get plastered on the stadium wall”.
It was there that Michaelson became suspicious that this was no ordinary stunt event and that there was a malign agenda in play.
One evening, Michaelson says, he and Robinson were taken to watch some horse racing at a local Montreal track. It was, he says, an unnerving evening’s entertainment. A barman leaned in close to Michaelson and nervously asked of his companions: “Do you know who those guys are?”
Michaelson also says that when he asked a large man in Ramacieri’s entourage called Joe Lemmo what he did for a living, he replied: “I make concrete shoes.” (Lemmo was sometimes called upon to wear a superhero outfit and go by the name “Mercury” for the act.)
“To me, these guys were the boys. I mean they were the boys. Know what I mean?” Michaelson says. “When I got a call from a guy telling me that there was a million-dollar life insurance taken out on Rick Rojatt for the jump, I started to put two and two together.”
Babinski thinks the rumours of Mob involvement in The Human Fly’s exploits are pure fancy: “That was all part of Joe’s fantasy. He loved the idea that he was a shady, aloof figure and making it all work from the shadows. But before he died, I got to know Joe pretty well. If he was the Mob then I wish all the Mob were like that. He was a good guy. Even if he did like to fantasise.”
If Ramacieri had been seduced by key elements of Seventies pop culture – Evel Knievel and Marvel Comics – then why not The Godfather, too? He certainly seemed to play up to the idea. In a TV interview he gave prior to the jump, Ramacieri tells a CBC interviewer it wouldn’t hurt the family’s meat business if The Fly died making his jump.
“It’s insulting to assume every Italian is a mobster,” Denise Ramacieri says. “My husband wasn’t. But there’s no doubt he liked to elaborate and say dumb things sometimes to create drama.”
Ramacieri didn’t need to create drama. It was all there. In the stadium on the day of the jump, Michaelson was unhappy at the construction of the launch and landing ramps and threatened to walk out.
“The receiving ramp was 6ft above the last bus,” Michaelson says. “There were exposed metal struts that would have been like feeding him into a mincer.”
With the ramps amended and in front of an almost-empty stadium (ticket sales were a disaster), The Human Fly strode out and mounted Michaelson’s bike. And then he burned up the launch ramp, throttle open full.
“Immediately he was nose up as though he was going through the roof,” recalls Michaelson. “Then he dropped out of the air like a dead turkey.”
When a man in a sequined mask crashes a rocket bike on top of a line of buses, you’d expect chaos to ensue. There were gasps, screams and sirens, sure. But others in the audience reacted in a very strange way indeed.
“I went berserk,” says Denise Ramacieri, who was watching from the stands. “I nearly fainted because I thought there is no way that guy can have survived.” But she admits her husband seemed unfazed. “Joe shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘OK, so we try something else’. I mean he was as cool as anything.”
Michaelson’s reaction wasn’t exactly textbook, either. He and Robinson ran for their lives. “Why didn’t I rush to help The Fly? Because I honestly thought, ‘These guys want to kill him and they’re going to come after us, too’. There were guys with baseball bats covering every exit. It was very heavy in there. We eventually got out and got a cab to the airport and got a flight to New York.”
So what did happen? The Fly survived the jump and went to hospital. He apparently broke an ankle and suffered cuts and bruises, though Denise Ramacieri says she heard rumours further injuries were inflicted inside the ambulance: “I heard that. But there was so much crap being talked, who do you believe?”
No one is sure who was actually wearing The Fly mask that day. Would Rojatt, however much a fantasist and chancer, be stupid enough to attempt a world record motorbike jump? Steven Goldmann heard an alternate theory: that the man in the mask in Montreal was actually the UK’s own Eddie Kidd. Kidd tellsEsquire he was approached but thought The Human Fly was “a big joke” – and so declined.
For Michaelson’s part, though he never saw him without his mask, he believes the Montreal jumper was Rojatt. Two weeks after the failed jump, he received a phone call.
“The guy said he was Rick, thanked me for saving his life [after Michaelson had demanded changes to the jump ramps] and then hung up. After that, the guy just disappeared. I tell you, he thought that the Mob were going to dust him for not getting killed for the insurance money. He never broke cover again.”
Rojatt disappeared and Marvel closed The Human Fly comic in 1979, after a 19-month run. But Ramacieri never gave up on transcending his life as a sausage-maker.
He later started a Formula 1 racing magazine and dabbled in the music industry. And The Human Fly concept didn’t quite die either. In the early Eighties, a man performed a concert in New Jersey under the name The Human Fly & Red Rider. He was Cyndi Lauper’s former boyfriend and manager David Wolff, in an ill-fated attempt (backed by Ramacieri) to reposition The Human Fly as a pop star.
Look before you leap: The Human Fly attempts his jump over 26 buses in Montreal’s near-empty Olympic Stadium, 1977. Despite crashing, he survives with minor injuries
In 2005, Ky Michaelson got a call from a stuntman friend called Bubba Blackwell. He had spotted a Harley in the small ads in the Florida Trading Times. It was The Human Fly’s rocket bike. Michaelson bought it for $6,500.
“It was a mangled piece of crap the last time I had seen it,” he says of the now fully restored machine. “I was amazed to get it back. I have no idea where it has been for all those years.”
These days, motorbike bus-jumps are not at the epicentre of pop culture. In the US, they might draw half a dozen shit-kickers at a county fair. And yet, The Fly refuses to die.
The most recent San Diego Comic-Con festival saw the launch of The New Adventures of the Human Fly. This time they ditched the fantasy back story to go with the real one: “The Human Fly tells the story of Joe, a young sausage-maker, who bets it all on an alleged Hollywood stuntman…”
Meanwhile, in the course of researching The Human Fly movie, Tony Babinski thinks he may have finally tracked down Rick Rojatt. He and his brother Bob’s research led them to a man in his mid-sixties working in a photographer’s equipment firm in Ontario. When Tony Babinski rang, the man on the end of the phone didn’t want to talk.
“I’m pretty sure it was him. But he really, really doesn’t want to be found and you have to respect that,” Babinski says. “But Joe Ramacieri would love the idea that The Human Fly lives on and his story is being told. The guy was a dreamer. He always wanted to be known for more than sausages. And that is what gives this story a ‘heart truth’. It’s about having a dream and being willing to do anything to chase it. That’s what makes it more than just a story about a bunch of morons.”
The Human Fly movie is due for release later this year. Taken from Esquire’s March issue, on newsstands now.