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Stuntman from Montana: The Rod Rondeaux Story
June 21st, 2012

© 2012 David Robb, All Rights Reserved.

By David Robb

Rod Rondeaux has made a career out of being killed and maimed in movies and TV shows. He was stabbed to death by Will Smith, who killed him with a knife concealed in his boot in "The Wild, Wild West." He was blown up by a cannon in "True Women"; set on fire in Chris Eyre's "Skins," and mowed down by machine gun fire in "Mind Games." He's been shot off of horses in "Purgatory" and in "South of Heaven, West of Hell." He was shot off a stagecoach in "The Magnificent Seven" TV series and shot off a rooftop in the upcoming HBO film "And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself." He was blown up in a jeep in the upcoming "10-8" TV series, and he fell down the side of a mountain on "Roswell." In "The Scorpion King," he was clubbed to death by The Rock, stabbed, lanced and dragged to his death by horses. "I was killed about five different times on that movie," he recalls with his characteristically hearty laugh.

Rondeaux is one of Hollywood's top stuntmen, and one of the few Native Americans working Hollywood's most dangerous trade.

"I know right now of only about eight other Indian stuntmen," he said during a recent interview. "It's a very small community. There's a lot of guys out there claiming to be stuntmen, but there's only eight besides myself who are regularly working, and probably only two or three of us working full time."

Rondeaux grew up on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana, near the banks of the Little Big Horn River -- "where Custer met his maker," Rondeaux says with a laugh.

Rondeaux's long and circuitous route to Hollywood actually began not too far from Tinseltown -- in downtown Los Angeles, where he was born in 1958. His mother had been enticed off the Crow reservation in Montana that year as part of a well-intentioned, but failed, social engineering experiment called the Indian Relocation Program.

"That's when they were trying to make white people out of the Indians, but with me, they weren't very successful," he says with another big laugh. "They were trying to assimilate Indians into the White society. My mom says they rented an apartment for her for three months and got her a job. We lived on Hope Street in downtown Los Angeles."

Two months after he was born, however, his maternal grandparents came to L.A. to bring their grandson back to the reservation with them. "When I was nine weeks old, my grandma and grandpa came to get me in an old Hudson car," he says. "They hauled my little Indian ass back to the reservation. I grew up with them until the second grade."

And that's when tragedy struck. "My grandma and I were in the car driving on the reservation," he says solemnly, "and she lost control and the car went in a ditch."

Rod was thrown through the windshield but he managed to crawl back to his grandmother's side "I held her in my arms as she died," he recalls. "Her name was Julia."

By this time, Rod's mother had remarried and relocated not far away in Lodge Grass, Montana, and she wanted her son to come live with her. Grandpa, however, didn't want to give the boy up, and a custody battle ensued that ended up before the tribal court, which eventually awarded custody to his mother. So little Rod was on the move again.

His new stepfather – whom he calls 'Dad' to this day – would have a major impact on his life. "Dad was 1/16th Crow, and he was whiter-than-white," Rondeaux says with a chuckle. "He was a cowboy with blue eyes, and he taught me how to train horses. We started breaking horses when I was 8 years old. By the time I was 11 – and several broken bones later – I broke my first rodeo bull. I'm still ridin' horses but I quit ridin' bulls two years ago. I have broken every bone in my body but my back and my neck -- at least once."

All of those injuries came during his early years as a real-life cowboy and rodeo rider. The worst injury he's sustained in the movies was a sprained ankle. "Safety is very important in the movies," he says. "It's a hell of a job, and we take safety very seriously."

Rondeaux got into the stunt business the hard way -- by way of the rodeo circuit, a hard night of drinking, a broken down car and a missed airplane flight.

He'd been traveling around the country on the rodeo circuit in the early '90s when he wound up at his sister's bar in Montana.

"I was rodeoing all over the U.S., and I was on my way to a rodeo in South Dakota," he recalls. "My sister was running a bar in Billings and we partied too late that night and I missed my plane to the rodeo in South Dakota. She was feeling real bad about that, but as she was reading the paper the next day, she said, 'Hey brother, they're having auditions right here in Billings for riders for a Wild West show in Paris. I'll drive you over there.' So she drove me to the audition." A few months later, he got the job and after a week of orientation in Orlando, Florida, he was on his way to Paris, France, where he would spend the next two years working at EuroDisney as part of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show – starting out as a one of the corps of riders and eventually working his way up to the featured role as Sitting Bull.

In 1996, when his contract with EuroDisney expired, Rondeaux came back to the U.S. and started training horses again, breaking them to ride in the rodeo. "I did that for six weeks or so when I heard that they were having auditions for the movie 'Crazy Horse,'" he recalls.

Rondeaux nearly didn't get the job, however, because the wheel fell off his friend's beat up old car on their way to the audition.

"On the way to the audition, our car broke down in South Dakota on the Lakota Reservation near Pine Ridge," he recalls. "Luckily we broke down on an old dirt road and this farmer came along and helped us out. He helped us put the wheel back on and we drove the car to the audition. I was late, and there were about 400 Sioux boys there for the audition, and I told the guy in charge that I was sorry I was late. And he yelled out, 'Hey, he's here.' I was surprised. They had been expecting me. Someone had apparently called ahead and recommended me. I ended up doubling for the lead -- Michael Greyeyes, who starred in the film as Crazy Horse."

Rondeaux, who now lives in Valencia, California, with his wife and 18-month-old daughter, would go on to double for Greyeyes on several other films, including "Stolen Women, Captured Hearts" and "True Women." He's worked as a stuntman on some 30 films and TV shows in the last seven years, and in 2001 he received the award for outstanding stuntman from the prestigious First Americans in the Arts. Most recently,

he played one of the villainous kidnappers in Ron Howard's upcoming new film "The Missing," for which Rondeaux finished looping dialogue only last month. As Rondeaux can attest, it takes a lot of hard work to become a stuntman. But he also knows that it takes some luck.

"If that farmer hadn't come by to fix our car," Rondeaux says with another hearty laugh, "I'd still be training horses.

© 2012 David Robb, all rights reserved. Property of David Robb.

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