In the electrifying opening sequence of Licence to Kill, James Bond’s 16th and latest mission, 007 dangles perilously from a pursuit helicopter to lasso the tail of a drug smugglers fleeing Cessna. Setting up the scary sky chase for the cameras, skydiving ace B.J. Worth, the movie’s parachute stunt coordinator, and Jake Lombard, star Timothy Dalton’s daring double, put in a lot of practice time hanging out in the Florida Everglades.
Over the Everglades actually. Worth and Lombard were hanging out 30 feet below a helicopter flying 80 mph at 500 feet above the swamp, trusting their lives to a 3/8-inch-thick steel cable. “We called it trolling for eagles,” says Worth, who invented the stunt. “We were bait, swinging out of that chopper.” In the end, though, the two of them didn’t even catch a cold, and that’s the way Worth likes his stunts. They have all the appearance of nervy, almost mindless derring-do. Yet, Worth choreographs them so carefully that, once the camera starts rolling, they go off without a hitch.
“I’ve been told I’m too serious,” says Worth, 37, in his characteristic soft tones. “I try to loosen up when I can. but I think being serious is actually to my benefit in the long run. I think it provides the needed attention to details.” Still, any notion that Worth might be overcautious gets blown out the bomb-bay doors when he talks about his idea of a good time.
Last September he got his biggest kick as the organizer and one of the 30 parachutists in the skydiving exhibition team at the Seoul Olympics. The jumpers starred at the opening ceremonies, linking hands during a 45-second free-fall from 1100 feet to form the five Olympic rings. Remembers Worth: “I was grinning ear to ear.”
It was a highlight, but no novelty. If the 3,850 jumps Worth has made over the last 19 years could be edited into one long free-fall, it would show him airborne for about 36 hours straight. Only a small fraction of his air time has been logged in the creation and execution of movie stunts, and that’s fine with Worth, who says his life is falling into place.
Born in Hanover, N.H., Bruce Jeffrey (but even his parents call him B.J.) Worth was moved 50 times before he graduated from high school in Ventura, Calif., in 1969. The son of a peripatetic oil company geophysicist, B.J. was 12 and living in Oklahoma when he attended a skydiving show put on by the Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team. The thoroughly awed youngster edged up shyly as one of the newly landed paratroopers folded his chute. “The guy looked about 10 feet tall,” B.J. remembers. Soon after, he began practicing parachute landings by leaping off the roof of his family’s one-story house. “I always knew I wanted to jump,” he says.
The University of Montana was Worth’s only choice for college because it listed skydiving as an extracurricular activity. His first question when he got off the plane in Missoula was, “Where do you go to make a jump?” After four years majoring in zoology and minoring in leaping out of planes—or was it the other way around?—Worth graduated in 1973 and headed to Casa Grande, Ariz., then the mecca of skydiving.
Supporting himself as an instructor and parachute rigger, Worth, in less than a year, earned a spot on the team that won the national and world championships in 1974. After marking up his second world title in aerobatics in 1977 (he has since won two more), Worth was approached by movie producer Michael G. Wilson about coordinating the free-fall sequence of Moonraker, the Bond film then beginning production. Eighty jumps later from 12,500 feet, the 90-second free-fall chase between Bond and the villain was done.
It was such a hit that Worth and his cameraman were signed on to coordinate the aerial stunts for all future Bond movies. Worth dreamed up the jump from Paris’s Eiffel Tower that opened A View to a Kill, and for a fee of $30,000 agreed to perform the dangerous stunt. Stunt doubling for Grace Jones, he launched himself with a running start from a tiny platform on the observation deck 900 feet from the ground while three high-speed cameras rolled to shoot the scene in slow motion. After a three-second free-fall, Worth pulled his rip cord and floated down to within six feet of his wife, Bobbie, now 36, and their daughter, Sara, 6.
For all the inherent dangers involved, Worth has been injured only once, when a bomb blew up near him during the filming of Delta Force. The sequence was set up by someone else, and B.J., who still carries scars from that incident, has vowed never again to perform any stunt that he does not coordinate himself. Worth’s on-location work, however, frequently takes him away from his family. While B.J. is currently working on a skydiving film in Indonesia, his wife and daughter are living in Buffalo, N.Y., where Bobbie is finishing her studies for a psychology degree.
For relaxation all the Worths retreat to Whitefish, Mont., to a secluded cabin built with the profits from B.J.’s first movie (he also heads his own company, called Big Sky Films). Sometimes Worth will do a little winter camping, but never by himself. This man who makes his living with regular falls to earth at 120 mph says with his usual, measured caution, “It’s not safe to go into a wilderness alone.”
—Ned Geeslin, Jane Ferrell in San Francisco