Frank "Cannonball" Richards

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Frank "Cannonball" Richards
Frank "Cannonball" Richards shot in stomach with cannonball.jpg
Born Frank Anson Richards
February 20, 1887
Minneapolis, Kansas, United States of America
Died February 7, 1969 (aged 81)
Long Beach, California, United States of America
Occupation

Frank "Cannonball" Richards (February 20, 1887 – February 7, 1969) was a carnival and vaudeville performer whose act involved taking heavy blows to his stomach.[1]

Richards began by letting people (including heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey) punch him in the gut. Dempsey hit him in the stomach a reported total of seventy-five times.[2] He then progressed to letting people jump on his belly, being struck by a two-by-four, being struck by a sledgehammer, and finally being shot by a 104-lb. (47 kg) cannonball from a spring-loaded 12 ft. (3.6 m) cannon.[3] Richards limited his cannonball act to twice per day, as performing it more often was too painful.

Early life[edit]

Frank Anson Richards was born to Richard Jones Richards and Ellen Elizabeth Richards on February 20, 1887, in the Ottawa County town of Minneapolis in the state of Kansas. He had two siblings, sister Rose May Richards and brother Edwin H. Richards, both of whom would later end up in Long Beach, California as well. Before he became a performer, Richards served in World War I.[4]

Career[edit]

Prior to 1924, Richards joined the theatrical world of vaudeville, creating an act for himself by exhibiting how much "punishment" his stomach could take. These included being hit in the solar plexus with a sledgehammer, battering rams, and allowing people to jump on his stomach. He also allowed champion boxer Jack Dempsey to punch him in the gut, to prove its strength.

Richards's most famous act involved him being shot in the gut with a cannonball weighing over one hundred pounds. He performed this act twice a day during the peak of his career, but more than that was too painful.

Mechanics of the cannonball act[edit]

Richards's most famous act has also drawn much controversy in recent times, of how the "trick" was done. This is because of the fact that a cannonball fired at full-force would kill a human being, and would likely have killed Richards. With this, skeptics have analyzed his act as being the result of a spring-loaded cannon, a hollow cannonball, and manipulation via "movie magic".

The idea that the clips were manipulated and that the cannonball was hollow are myths. The cannonball weighed a total of 104 pounds, meaning that the act was too painful for Richards to do more than twice per day. The cannon was, however, spring-loaded to guarantee it wouldn't fire too hard. Despite being spring-loaded, the cannonball was still fired at close range with a force that would likely kill a normal person. The fact of it being a spring-loaded cannon was never covered up, as the act was still "death-defying" and impressive.

Personal life[edit]

Richards made Long Beach, California his permanent home, despite touring a lot for work. He was a Christian, a member of the Presbyterian Church of Pomona. As a proud veteran, Richards was a member of American Legion Post 27, and gave free shows at Legion meetings, Elks Clubs, and many military camps during World War II.

Because of his act getting hit in the gut, he became acquainted with most boxing champions of the time. These included Jim Jeffries, Jack Johnson, Ad Wolgast, Joe Rivers, Joe Lewis, Jess Willard, and Jack Dempsey.

Death[edit]

Photo of Frank "Cannonball" Richards's grave at the Pomona Cemetery and Mausoleum.
The grave of Frank "Cannonball" Richards.

Richards died on February 7, 1969, at the age of 81. He died in Long Beach, California, where he had been living for many years. He was buried at the Pomona Cemetery and Mausoleum in Pomona, California.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

A short clip of Richards performing his cannonball trick has become a well-known example of stock footage and well known in popular culture.

In the episode "The Chip (Part 1)" of the cartoon television show "Freakazoid!, the well-known stock footage clip was played with a narration describing Richards's feats.[6] It was also used in the 1977 documentary "Gizmo!," the episode "Fairly OddBaby" of "The Fairly OddParents", and in the episode "Chuck versus the Fear of Death" of "Chuck", as well as being referenced in the "Seinfeld" episode "The Apology".

In its most notable usages, it was made into a parody in the "Homerpalooza" episode of The Simpsons, and a still image from the clip was used for the cover of the album Van Halen III. "Homerpalooza" shows Homer Simpson becoming a carnival freak doing Richards's act (being a cannonball catcher), but quitting after it is revealed it would kill him to keep going.

Filmography[edit]

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1995 Freakazoid! Himself (Archive footage) Used in the episode "The Chip (Part 1)"
1995 Extremely Weird Himself (Archive footage) TV Movie
1999 Sideshow: Alive on the Inside Himself (Archive footage)
2000 Ripley's Believe It or Not! Himself (Archive footage) TV Movie documentary
2008 The Fairly OddParents Himself (Archive footage) Clip used in the episode "Fairly OddBaby"

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]