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Beacon Senior News

A rough and tumble day at the office: Hollywood stuntman retires in Grand Junction

Jan 04, 2017 11:50AM ● By Amanda Arnold

Michael Runyard sits atop the Harley he bought from a 1990 TV series that starred George Clooney after it went bust. He rides it over the Colorado National Monument regularly in the warmer months.

By Amanda Arnold & Cloie Sandlin

Imagine getting tossed around, thrown off of buildings, set on fire and dangled from a helicopter. What about standing on top of the Golden Gate Bridge? While these activities definitely sound terrifying, for Michael Runyard they are all part of a rewarding career as a Hollywood stuntman.

For almost 40 years, Runyard, 64, has found himself in the most interesting and daring predicaments on the silver screen. Some of his daredevil credits include “The Dukes of Hazard,” “Basic Instinct” (1992), “The Fast and the Furious” (2001), “Iron Man” (2008) and “The Lone Ranger” (2013). In addition to working as a stuntman, he has also worked as a stunt coordinator in several films, including “Fight Club” (1999) and “Twister” (1996).

Runyard at the Daytona Supercross, 1974

A daredevil history

Runyard was involved in his first project as a kid—a bicycle safety film that was much more tame than his later work. He went on to race motocross, winning championships in Canada and the U.S., so he had a growing reputation for his motorcycle skills, which is what paved his way to the silver screen.

Not knowing what to do next after retiring from motocross in his mid 20s, Runyard got a job building sets at Universal Studios. His dad made him a carpenter box, decorated with motocross photos, which Runyard would pull from stage to stage. Soon, those photos caught the attention of some stunt coordinators and directors.

“My first job on a movie was ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’—the first one—doing bike work,” he said.

With his motocross background, the bruising, bang-em-up car scenes have always been a good fit for Runyard. One scene in “Basic Instinct” required him to do a car hit three times because he broke the windshield on the first two takes. Before the third take, the stunt coordinator asked him if he had another one in him. Though he was starting to swell up, he agreed to one more.

“It doesn’t matter where you put the pad or how many pads you put on, when you do something like that, you’re going to get it,” he said.

The crew reinforced the windshield with hard plastic for the third take.

“I didn’t break the windshield, but the only problem is when I hit it, I bounced,” he said.

Some of the scenes Runyard’s been in stop audience’s hearts, but he has managed to stay out of harm’s way for the most part.

He has only sustained two injuries on the job. He broke his femur laying down a bike in “The Fast and the Furious” and he got burned in a fire scene in another movie.

“I got burned pretty bad—no scars or anything, but I was in the Sherman Oaks Burn Ward for two weeks. But those are the only two times,” he said nonchalantly. “But for 39 years, that’s not bad.”

According to Runyard, his career choice didn’t concern his wife Barbara too much, as they met in 1971 while he was still doing motocross.

“She knew what I was doing when I met her so it wasn’t that big of a change going from motorcycles to stunt work,” he said.

Since then, Runyard has done just about everything from high falls to being set on fire.

The high fall and body doubles

While he isn’t exactly afraid of heights, Runyard said that free-fall stunts are sometimes challenging.

“I’ve always been comfortable with the high work, as long as I was attached to something,” he said.

But in the movie “Birdy” (1984), he served as Matthew Modine’s stunt double in a 90-foot free-fall from a tower in San Francisco.

“I had to do it three times because the director was shooting with one camera and wanted three different angles,” he said.

As a double for Michael Douglas in “Falling Down” (1993), Runyard had to fall 30 feet into the ocean. If he didn’t land just right, it would have to be shot again.

Runyard has many stories about the actors, directors and other professionals he’s worked with over the years. His favorite movies to work on were three James Bond movies.

He remembered doubling for Roger Moore in the fight scene between James Bond and Max Zorin on top of the Golden Gate Bridge in “A View to a Kill” (1985). He also did stunts in “Octopussy” (1983) and was a stunt double for Sean Connery in “Never Say Never Again” (1983).

“The best one I did was ‘Never Say Never Again’ because it was Sean’s last movie as a Bond and I watched him and all his Bond movies when I was a kid,” he said. “It was way cool.”

Runyard said that Sean would have 27 stunt doubles on one movie, and he doubled him on all the bike stunts.

Runyard was Michael Douglas’ stunt double for 26 years. Here is Douglas, left, and Runyard, right, on the set of “Ant-Man” (2015).

Michael Runyard, left, and Michael Douglas, right, on the set of “Black Rain” (1988).

Though he’s been a stunt double for many actors, including Harrison Ford and George Clooney, Runyard found the most pleasure in serving as Michael Douglas’ stunt double for 26 years, in almost all of his films, starting with “Black Rain” in 1988.

“We hit it off good so I doubled him ever since,” Runyard said.

In fact, Runyard was such a good double that the two have been mistaken for each other while on and off the set.

“Working with Michael is such a pleasure because he shares and invites you into his character, and really makes you feel part of the movie that you are working on together,” he said.

Runyard recalled fond memories from when he and Douglas were shooting a sequence at a golf course for “Falling Down.”

“Between setups and during lunch, we would go play [golf] until they called us on the radio,” he said. “Then we would go back to work. Things like that are memorable beyond words.”

To this day, they are good friends and golf buddies.

Retirement life

When the crowds became too much for them in California, the Runyards followed some friends in retiring to Grand Junction in 2014.

But Runyard hasn’t fully retired, having appeared in movies as recent as “Ant-Man” (2015) and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016).

“I still work,” he said, “not a lot, but if they call, I’m there.”

One of his favorite pastimes is riding the Harley he bought after “Sunset Beat,” a 1990 TV series starring George Clooney, wasn’t picked up and the bikes went up for sale.

“I bought one and put maybe 8,000 miles on it in all those years,” he said. “I’ve put more miles on it here.”

With the Colorado National Monument right outside his door, Runyard rides his Harley over Rim Rock Drive on a regular basis—sometimes three times a day during the warmer months. 

He’s still in awe over the career he’s had.

“I feel lucky,” he said. “Most of the stuff you want to do as a kid, you end up doing something else. I wanted to race motorcycles, so I did that for quite a long time. I just got lucky finding something else I like to do and I still got to ride my bike.” ν