Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton was an American actor, comedian, filmmaker and stunt performer. As this video of some of his most memorable stunts show, he was also an incredible athlete who could be said to be one of the very first practitioners of “parkour,” or free-running long before there was even a name for it.
Keaton came from a family of vaudeville performers, and earned his nickname when he took a tumble down some stairs as a toddler while Harry Houdini was visiting. After seeing the boy get up completely unhurt, Houdini said, “That was a real buster!” Back in those days, “buster” was any spill or fall that had potential for injury, and the nickname stuck due to his propensity to take remarkably rough-looking tumbles without injuring himself.
When asked about how he managed to stay unharmed, Keaton explained that “the secret is in landing limp and breaking the fall with a foot or a hand. It’s a knack. I started so young that landing right is second nature with me. Several times I’d have been killed if I hadn’t been able to land like a cat. Imitators of our act don’t last long, because they can’t stand the treatment.”