Tecumseh High School graduate continues work as a stuntman in Hollywood

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Chester Tripp carefully prepares his daughter, Courtney for a small burn stunt. It takes four layers of special clothing and careful painting of accelerant to set his daughter on fire. For a larger burn on a set, Tripp said it takes four or more people to prepare the stunt person.

There is a picture that goes with the myth of the Hollywood stuntman — a big and brawny beast of a man that nothing can harm. Chester Tripp III of Tecumseh is a real Hollywood stuntman, who focuses on skill rather than size. He’s trim and as physically fit as when he played high school football for Tecumseh and Addison in the 1970s, but his real strength comes from his family.

His respect and love for his wife, and his enjoyment of his children completely eclipse any bit of machismo Tripp could have. This is a man who has set himself on fire, dropped from multi-story buildings, sparred with Sugar Ray Leonard and Lennox Lewis, driven every type of car and truck for stunts, and been shot and beaten by Hollywood good guys and bad guys.

Yet, his real passion is telling how he and his wife LeAnn fell for each other practicing high falls at a Texas stunt school. She fell 80 feet and he fell 100, so Tripp says he fell farther in love with his wife than she did with him. In the more than 20 years since those high falls, it is obvious Tripp is still deeply in love with his wife, and she with him.

As much as he is happy to discuss his own work, Tripp really lights up when describing how his daughter, Courtney, became the youngest stunt person on record at age four after doing a backwards blind high fall 10 feet down on the set of “Port Charles.” The fact that his son, Connor, wants to be a stunt man exactly like his father when he grows up, means more to Tripp than all the trophies in his trophy case.

After a difficult childhood with many family issues, Tripp remembers he was not interested at first when LeAnn wanted a family, but once she was pregnant all that changed.

“I just fell in love with the baby,” Tripp said.

The baby came after LeAnn convinced her husband to move to Los Angeles and work at what he was so good at, stunts. “I had to drag him to California,” LeAnn remembered.

Tripp admitted he was skeptical of making a career as a stunt man and didn’t have the confidence in himself that LeAnn had. “I’m a mechanic, that’s my job,” Tripp said of his thoughts 20 years ago.

All of Tripp and LeAnn’s children know how to high fall with no fear. Courtney works with her father on fighting moves, and Connor is all about practicing stunt riding moves. Tripp is focused on making sure all the different stunt moves are practiced in complete safety, under his watchful eye.

“My daughter is willing to try anything,” said Tripp. “My son doesn’t want anything to do with fire.”

After deciding to move back to Tecumseh to be close to his mother and brothers, Tripp and LeAnn scouted locations for the perfect house. They found a home which was in rough condition but had an indoor swimming pool and lots of space inside the house and out. It was perfect. The pool is used every day, but for falling instead of swimming.

Tripp has mats at the bottom of the pool and he and his children practice different types of falls off the slide and the side of the pool. Relaxation and technique are important to Tripp’s process, both for himself and for his children. He believes a safe fall comes from practice and second nature.

“I’m extremely cautious with the kids,” Tripp said.

A consummate professional, Tripp is all about safety and work ethic. He has watched good friends die in front of him when their stunts went wrong and the set was lacking safety measures. It may add time to a shoot, but Tripp insists on making sure every stunt he does or coordinates for a show or movie is as safe as possible. His goal is never to watch any stunt person miss their mark and hit the ground the way his friend Sonja did on the set of “Vampire in Brooklyn” in 1995.

“You can’t run it back,” Tripp said about mistakes in stunt work. Sonja’s death made a huge impact on Tripp, emphasizing there can never be enough safety checks on set.

Tripp’s regular work on “Hawaii-Five-0” takes him out of town for work, but he hopes to bring a little stunt action back home whether by setting himself on fire for parties or in the stunt driving school he hopes to open in the near future. Open to the possibilities of mixing real life and Hollywood myth, Tripp is happy being back in Michigan.

Tripp admitted Michigan may not be the most beautiful or glamorous place he and LeAnn have lived, but to him it still feels like home. He and his family are enjoying all the time spent with Tripp’s family and the new friends Courtney and Connor have made in Tecumseh schools.

Right now, Tripp is happy to commute to his stunt jobs across the country. At 53, he knows he can’t do stunt work forever, but he feels strong enough and confident enough to keep working in the business he has come to love.

“I’m more afraid of failing my family than dying,” Tripp said. Until those fears are reversed, he will continue to fall from tall buildings, set himself on fire, get shot, stabbed and punched, and drive dangerously. It’s all in a day’s work.

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