Larry the Moron
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Larry the Moron
The True Story of Larry Walters, the American Icarus 
Story contributed by Kerry Pelham (1999)
Pictures contributed by Melissa Hogan
Edited by Rick Archer

This is the true story of Larry Walters, a favorite son of the Darwin Award committee.

The Charles Darwin Award is an annual honor presented posthumously to the person or persons who do the world's gene pool a great service by removing themselves from society in the most extraordinarily stupid way -- which then prevents them from reproducing those worthless genes any further  Although Larry didn't manage to remove himself from the gene pool, after reading the story you will have to admit he deserved at least an Honorable Mention from the Darwin Committee.

Kerry Pelham originally sent me this story via email in early 1999. I laughed, then filed it away assuming it was typical Internet nonsense. Then in February, 2000, a year later, Melissa Hogan sent me pictures of Larry Walters in action. 

Once I saw Melissa's pictures, I
was floored.  Holy smokes!  This story really was true!  I still couldn't believe it, so I decided to visit the Internet.

The first thing I did was look for the Darwin Awards and for Larry Walters by name. I ended up at a dozen different places. One site named Larry the 1997 winner. Another site named Larry the 1982 winner. Others didn't mention him at all. There are Darwin Sites all over the place!!

Interestingly, none of the stories about Larry Walters were completely the same, but they all agreed on two things: 

1)  This has to be one of the stupidest stunts in the history of all mankind. 
2)  The event occurred in 1982. 

And now for Larry's story...

Apparently each year some group awards the Darwin Award” for individuals who do the earth’s “Gene pool” the greatest service for doing something completely moronic and usually getting killed in the process.  Two years ago it went to an individual who tried to “swipe a free soda” by tipping over a soda machine (with predictably bad results!).

Last year it went to a guy in the military for tying a jet engine onto his personal vehicle and ended up smashing into a cliff. But this year, the award was ACTUALLY given to an individual identified here only as LARRY, who for the first time in the Darwin Awards history, SURVIVED.

According to the report, Larry had a childhood dream to fly. He enlisted in the Air Force but poor eyesight prevented him from making a flight crew.

One day Larry went to a local “Army/Navy” store and purchased 45 weather balloons and a large stash of “helium”. (Note: when inflated, these balloons are about 4 ft in diameter.) Larry’s plan was to fill the balloons, suspend his lawn chair under them and float contentedly over his backyard in southern California. He tried a trial run by inflating 10 balloons and attaching them to his favorite lawn chair. Then he tied his lawn chair to the bumper of his car. Stuck to the tether, his chair floated about 10 feet up. Now content that his idea would work, Larry hauled down the chair and prepared to make his “final voyage”.

Assuming his weight would be a major load, Larry filled the other 35 balloons. Now he was ready.  Armed with a pack of sandwiches and a 6 pack of Miller Lite plus his PELLET gun, Larry lashed himself into his lawn chair.

Larry’s plan was to float above his back yard at about 30 feet for a few hours and then using his pellet gun, he would “shoot out” enough balloons to descend safely back to earth a few hours later.

Unfortunately, when Larry severed his anchor, he didn’t float leisurely above his yard.  In FACT, Larry was propelled into the sky as if SHOT by a cannon!! His chair climbed to 100 feet in just a matter of seconds!!  The shock was so great he instantly lost his glasses, leaving him half blind for the entire trip.

He found himself blasted not 30 feet above his house, not 100 ft above his house… Larry stopped climbing 16,000 feet into the atmosphere!!  Now perched 3 MILES above the earth, it was VERY RISKY to shoot out any balloons, lest he upset the balance of the chair and fall to oblivion.

The mythological tale of Icarus, the ill-fated Greek Birdman, seemed ready to come true.  One mistake and Larry was in great danger of plummeting back to earth.

Larry was in serious trouble. 
Far up in space way above the clouds, Larry had no choice but to sit there scared out of his wits.  Did he have a coat?? No, of course not. Did he have any way to call for help??  No, of course not.  Did anyone know what he was doing?? No, of course not.  Did he have toilet paper?? The article did not discuss the tissue issue, but we assume not.  Did he have anything to read??  Or should the question be did he even know how to read?? 

Apparently Larry at least had a camera.  However he forgot to take a picture.  Maybe he was preoccupied.

For TWELVE HOURS Larry just sat there drifting aimlessly in his lawn chair with no plan or reasonable hope for getting down other than perhaps a fortuitous alien abduction.  There was Larry all by himself alone in the sky…no birds and no aliens either. His only companions were his sandwiches, his beer, and his pellet gun.  Alone.  Cold.  Frightened.  Drifting.  Alone.  Cold. Frightened.  Drifting.   You have to wonder if he realized this wasn't a very good idea.

God takes care of everyone, even morons. 
Larry’s fortunes miraculously improved when a breeze caught his balloons and carried him into the primary flight path of the Long Beach Airport.  A Pan Am airline pilot was the first to spot Larry.  Fortunately the pilot was alert.  The pilot took evasive action and rose higher in the air to avoid severing Larry’s balloon train with his wing.

After he had safely passed Larry, the airline pilot radioed to the airport tower, “I’m starting my descent at 16,000 feet and I just passed a guy in a lawn chair with a gun.  I don’t know if he is dangerous, but I don’t think so.  Maybe he is trying to commit suicide, but he looks too goofy!”

Soon the tower picked up an object on radar. They dispatched a helicopter to check out a possible terrorist threat.  Unfortunately evening was approaching and the Southern California evening winds began to carry Larry OUT TOWARD THE PACIFIC OCEAN. The helicopter caught up with Larry and watched him carefully for about 15 minutes with their binoculars. They ascertained in the evening gloom that his “GUN” was little more than a BB rifle, so this allayed their fears somewhat. There was no sign of any bomb to speak of.  After watching him wave his arms furiously and nearly fall into the ocean trying to get their attention, they finally decided he wasn’t dangerous to anyone but himself. 

At this point Larry had been up in the air for nearly half a day.  Now Larry caught another break.  Just as he was about to sail out over the Pacific Ocean, the wind shifted and carried him back inland.  (if you look at the picture below, you will see where Larry's route took a miraculous U-turn).

Tired, exhausted, and perhaps worried that an air force jet might be dispatched to end his trip "prematurely", Larry decided it was time to do something.  Larry took a chance and popped several balloons with his BB Gun.  Then he dropped his gun!! 

Fortunately he had popped enough balloons before dropping the gun.  Even though he was now helpless to control his fate, someone was watching over him.  Slowly but surely the lawn chair began its descent.  As his makeshift contraption neared ground, the ropes became entangled in a power line.  This final mishap briefly blacked out a small area in Long Beach.  The chair come to a stop a mere 5 feet above the ground. Miraculously Larry Walters was now able to climb down safely.  But if he needed help, there was plenty around. Larry wasn't alone anymore.

 In fact, Larry was surrounded by an army of patrol cars and news trucks.  This story was definitely going to make the evening news! 
Larry was quickly arrested by the waiting LAPD officers who charged him with violating the airspace of the Long Beach Airport.

As he was being led away in hand-cuffs, a reporter asked Larry why he had tried such a “lame-brained idea”. Larry stopped, looked back and said: “A guy has to do something. He can’t just sit around in his backyard all day.”

July, 2003:  The most complete story I have found on the Internet about the saga of Larry Walters can be read at: 

Mr. Barry appears to have researched this remarkable story in great detail and his version is the most believable rendition of a story full of tall tales and urban myths. 

I used his site to update several inaccuracies in my own version of the story which I originally put together in 2000.  

Rick Archer



From The Los Angeles Times
24 November 1993 
Myrna Oliver, Times Staff Writer

Larry Walters, who achieved dubious fame in 1982 when he piloted a lawn chair attached to helium balloons 16,000 feet above Long Beach, has committed suicide at the age of 44.

Walters died Oct. 6 after hiking to a remote spot in Angeles National Forest and shooting himself in the heart, his mother, Hazel Dunham, revealed Monday. She said relatives knew of no motive for the suicide. "It was something I had to do," Walters told The Times after his flight from San Pedro to Long Beach on July 2, 1982. "I had this dream for 20 years, and if I hadn't done it, I would have ended up in the funny farm."

Walters rigged 42 weather balloons to an aluminum lawn chair, pumped them full of helium and had two friends untether the craft, which he had dubbed "Inspiration I."

He took along a large bottle of soda, a parachute and a portable CB radio to alert air traffic to his presence. He also took a camera but later admitted, "I was so amazed by the view I didn't even take one picture."

Walters, a North Hollywood truck driver with no pilot or balloon training, spent about two hours aloft and soared up to 16,000 feet -- three miles -- startling at least two airline pilots and causing one to radio the Federal Aviation Administration.

Shivering in the high altitude, he used a pellet gun to pop balloons to come back to earth. On the way down, his balloons draped over power lines, blacking out a Long Beach neighborhood for 20 minutes.

The stunt earned Walters a $1,500 fine from the FAA, the top prize from the Bonehead Club of Dallas, the altitude record for gas-filled clustered balloons (which could not be officially recorded because he was unlicensed and unsanctioned) and international admiration. He appeared on "The Tonight Show" and was flown to New York to be on "Late Night With David Letterman," which he later described as "the most fun I've ever had."

"I didn't think that by fulfilling my goal in life -- my dream -- that would create such a stir," he later told The Times, "and make people laugh."

Walters abandoned his truck-driving job and went on the lecture circuit, remaining sporadically in demand at motivational seminars. But he said he never made much money from his innovative flight and was glad to keep his simple lifestyle.

He gave his "aircraft" -- the aluminum lawn chair -- to admiring neighborhood children after he landed, later regretting it.

In recent years, Walters hiked the San Gabriel Mountains and did volunteer work for the U.S. Forest Service.

"I love the peace and quiet," he told The Times in 1988. "Nature and I get along real well."

An Army veteran who served in Vietnam, Walters never married and had no children. He is survived by his mother and two sisters.


Letters to the Editor


 -----Original Message-----
From: Wm. G. (Bill) S
Sent: Friday, October 14, 2005 9:10 AM
Subject: larry the moron

Hi Rick;

In my never ending search for balloon history I got waylaid by your page on "Larry The Moron".

Two faults I have with it (easily changeable) are the two statements copied from that page below:

"Larry stopped climbing at 16,000 feet into the atmosphere!! Now perched 5 miles above the earth"...............

16,000 feet is barely over 3 miles, I know because I have piloted my own balloon to 12,500' which is 500 feet beyond the legal limit in American airspace without the pilot being on aviation breathing oxygen.  5,280 feet being a mile, I wanted to go to the limit which is greater than two miles.

The other mistake:
"Fortunately he had popped enough balloons before dropping the gun and slowly the lawn chair began its ascent.".............
That would be a "descent" if by shooting out some of his balloons caused him to go down.

All in all, It's a pretty wonderful page on him. I was not aware of the time frame on his flight. I remember hearing about it in the 90's. I thought it
was current news when I heard it. Thank you for your informative page on Larry. I learned something and hopefully helped you.

You are very welcome to visit my "Ballooning History" page and pick it apart!
Have a Good Day, Wonderful Day!

Wm. G. (Bill) Scarberry, Jr.
Concord, NC USA 28025

Rick Archer's Response:

Those two errors you pointed out are pretty glaring.  I am grateful that you have given me a head's up so I can correct them. I guess I am not so smart myself sometimes.



-----Original Message-----
From: Anita H
Sent: Wednesday, May 09, 2007 2:14 AM
Subject: re: your website page about Larry Walters


A friend sent me a link to your web page about the underground pot farm, which was really amazing.  I started to look at your other pages & found the one about Larry Walters & his balloon chair. 

I knew about him and was a little offended by your title of "Larry the Moron."  OK, maybe it's something most of us would not try, but I for one, admired his pioneering, adventurous spirit and do-it-yourself attitude.  Larry's adventure also spurred a new form of legitimate aviation, now called "Cluster Ballooning," so he was indeed a pioneer.

Might you consider changing the title of your page to something a little less derogatory?  The poor man committed suicide, after all.  Perhaps ridicule had something to do with that.

Thanks for listening,  Anita

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Wednesday, May 09, 2007 9:45 AM
To: Anita H
Subject: RE: your website page about Larry Walters

I respect your sentiment, Ms. H.  You have made your point well and forced me to take a second look at my decision.

In my opinion, Mr. Walters thoroughly deserves this title.  He is the all-time poster boy for foolish stunts.  I have never heard of anything more ridiculous.  Not only did he risk his own life, he forced the military to intercept him, he had rescue people on standby everywhere, and I believe he knocked out power when he landed. 

He came very close to killing himself in the process.

His actions were so far beyond reckless that there is no question in my mind that he has earned the right to be called a moron, as painful as that word is.  The word exists in our language for a reason - because there are actions so stupid as to be termed 'moronic'.

Were Mr. Walters alive today, I would soften my stance, but as it stands, his memory serves as a warning to the entire planet to think things through ahead of time.


From: Stephen B
Sent: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 3:24 PM

I have just stumbled across your poorly titled website about Larry Walters. I agree with Anita H and her letter and find your title to be more than a little harsh. I remember hearing of his flight when he took it and thought he was a genius. He put quite a bit of thought into it and had all the tools he needed for his flight (radio, altimeter, gun, ballast, parachute). As I recall he was only going to sit tethered at 30 feet as a test but his tether broke. You also state on your web page that he was " Alone. Cold. Frightened. Drifting. Alone. Cold. Frightened. You have to wonder if he realized this wasn't a very good idea".

I don't know how you pretend to know what was going through his mind, but I have listened to the recorded audio of his flight and he sounds calm, cool and collected through it all. I have read many other sites about Larry Walters but yours is pretty crass. It is easy to throw stones at Larry but he has not harmed anyone out there with his actions and was fulfilling his lifelong dream. Yeah, it could of ended worse for Larry that day and maybe others, but he made history and I love him for it. He obviously gathered your attention with all the time and research you have put in to such a "MORON". Maybe I am just another Moron to you but I would much rather be like Larry than a judgmental blogger like yourself.

Every time I see a helium balloon I will fondly remember Larry and his adventurous spirit.

Steve B


Airplane Stupidity I Airplane Stupidity II Larry the Moron Grand Canyon Idiot
Arrowhead Yacht Mishap Darwin Revisited  

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