The pain proof man has existed in one form or another for centuries. From Fakirs walking on hot coals, to persons of extraordinary physiology like the greatMirin Dajo, to persons driving nails deep into their various facial orifices. However few individuals have captured the imagination of the modern pop culture audience than The Amazing Frank ‘Cannonball’ Richards.
In 1932 ‘Cannonball’ Richards exploded onto the vaudeville entertainment scene with his remarkable act and his bombastic belly. Frank’s claim to fame was his seemingly ironclad gut and his act consisted of little more that taking heavy blows to his belly.
However, these were no gentle taps. Richards subjected his belly to physical abuse that would put the average man into hospitalized traction for days – if not weeks.
Richards began his strange journey into belly abuse by allowing his friends to punch him in the gut. His perceived imperviousness to the trauma prompted him to take the act a step further until, eventually, he was enduring and absorbing body blows from heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey.
‘Cannonball’ Richards steadily increased the level of distress he subjected his belly too. He soon allowed spectators to jump on his stomach. Following that he allowed himself to be struck by a two-by-four and then, later, he was able to endure repeated sledgehammer blows. From all reports and records, there were no gimmicks at work during these performances.
Finally, in a feat that ‘Cannonball’ Richards would forever be remembered for, Richards took to being shot in the belly with a cannonball.
It is important to note, however, that ‘Cannonball’ Richards used a spring-loaded cannon to fire his cannonball. But equally, the velocity at which the ball traveled was still beyond the limits of sanity and would likely have killed or severely injured an average man.
The image of this feat, performed twice daily during his time of greatest popularity, remains a near iconic photograph demonstrating the extremes possible in physical pain tolerance. It is also regarded, incorrectly, and the epitome of stupidity and ultimate example of a fame without talent or ability. So much so that during its the seventh season an episode of The Simpsons animated television series the idiotic and chronically tallentless Homer Simpson is hired into a traveling freak show, to be shot by cannonballs in the stomach.
It is a shame that most modern audiences have not realized the dedication and daredevil spirit required to perform the stunts Cannonball Richards performed. So unique was his ability that no comparable act has existed since.