The Great Feat Of Philippe Petit

In this still from the Oscar-nominated documentary "Man on Wire," Philippe Petit navigates the high-wire strung between the World Trade Center towers nearly 35 years ago.
On a gray August morning in 1974 atop the newly built World Trade Center, a 24-year-old Frenchman stepped out onto a steel cable a quarter-mile above the streets of Manhattan.

Now, nearly 35 years later, he tells CBS News' business correspondent Anthony Mason: "These are actually the historic shoes of the World Trade Center. These are the ones I actually - you see the mark of the cable here?"

The story of Phillipe Petit's clandestine quest to sneak into the twin towers has become an award-winning film.

And this month, "Man on Wire" is up for an Oscar for best documentary. Petit says even he was on the edge of his seat watching it.

"And I'm thinking is he going to make it? And I am like, you know, my palms are sweaty. And then I realize I'm the guy. I'm here. I am," he said.

And he made it.

"Alive and kicking," Petit said. "And walking."

In 45 minutes on the wire that morning, he made eight crossings between the twin towers before police coaxed him off.

"And although for most people it looks like I am venturing in death territory. For me, since I have a life wish, not a death wish, for me, I was not gambling my life. I was doing something much more beautiful. I was carrying my life across," he said.

Petit, who started as a Paris street juggler, later walked across the city of Frankfurt - and between Paris' Palais de Challot and the Eiffel Tower. Now nearly 60 years old, he still trains three hours a day at his home near Woodstock, N.Y.

He gave Mason a tour of some of his remaining memorabilia there. "This cable is actually is actually a piece of the cable I was walking in on between the Twin Towers," he said.

Mason asked: "Do you think about it from time to time?"

"No, I think about it constantly," Petit said.

Can he still imagine it, now that they're not there?

"They are there. They are there. Those towers to me they were alive. They were almost human. They breathe. They move. They allow me to pass. They smile when I walk," he said. "They were alive inside of me. So they're still there."

  • Anthony Mason
    Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"