Blockbuster stunt veteran shares about his turnaround following a near-death experience, drug addiction and stint in prison
It was a long road to success before adrenaline junky Will Harper made it as a stuntman in blockbuster films like Iron Man 2 and 3, Cowboys and Aliens, The Lone Ranger, Captain America 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean 5.
"The way I am wired speed is exhilarating, not terrifying," says Will, who started out as a motocross pro champion in his teens.
Sadly, multiple injuries forced him to retire at age 25. His immediate reaction, he says, was anger "at God, the world, my dad".
He hopelessly turned to partying, nightclubbing and drugs, but found a bigger rush when he took up a friend's offer to do stunts for Hollywood movies.
His career took off, even doubling as 'Rambo' for Sylvester Stallone in the 1982 flick First Blood.
Disaster struck his life a second time when he was run over by a truck during a stunt for The River, a 1984 film starring Mel Gibson.
"Extras got in the way of the stunt guys, so I went under the truck, and the double rear tires went over my chest. It was like dry twigs snapping. I was temporarily paralyzed, but I kept breathing. It broke just about everything from my shoulders to my ribs," he recalls.
Two men who witnessed the accident later told Will, "You were dead, man, God kept you alive for a reason," but Will laughed their comment off.
He found success again through a construction company and kept up his passion for racing with go karts and NASCAR stock cars, and won two late model championships.
Triumph seemed to be there at every turn, until suddenly, he says, "A darkness crept into my life" due to his wife's spending habits, losses on the racetrack and a lack of purpose to his life.
Then a ten-year addiction to crack cocaine cost him everything.
"I lost my wife, my dream house that I had built, two NASCAR stock cars, a hauler, and an ocean racing boat. I had no power to stop. I tried a 12-step program, but I was just one bad day away from using again," he admits.
He began dating and partying with a girl, and soon they had three kids. They dealt drugs to support their habit and fled from state to state to escape police.
“When I was arrested I was not anxious, I was at peace”Depression hit them hard when his wife accidentally fell asleep and suffocated their fourth child while breastfeeding him.
"I was either crying or high for about a year. I could see my wife was going to die because she felt so guilty," he says sadly.
In a new state they began dealing again, forcing his wife's mother to legally remove their three kids into her care.
They legally got divorced in an attempt to get their children back, but remained together. Boredom led to more partying and ultimately they were arrested on criminal distribution of methamphetamine, both facing a 100-year maximum sentence.
In the moments leading up to his arrest Will says a miracle happened.
"In my mind I saw a videotape of me getting arrested at a nearby market. Right away I believed that God was orchestrating something that day.
"[The arrest] happened just how He showed me and I was blown away. When I was arrested I was not anxious, I was at peace."
He prayed to God, "I think you're a little more personal than I ever believed. What do you want me to do?"
No answer came until Will began reading the Bible in prison.
"I see a neon light flashing in my head, 'Read the Bible.' I had always been taught that the Bible's not right, and it is not worth reading, with evolution and everything I had been brainwashed with in school."
Four months later he remembers, "I was reading about Jesus on the cross and when He died, the Roman centurion said, 'This is an innocent man, this is the Son of God.'
"Right at that moment I just burst into tears and all of a sudden I was born again spiritually, right there on the spot. I knew who Jesus really was. I went from hating the Bible to loving it."
Days later his lawyer announced that the $100,000 bail was reduced to zero. Will went to a Christian halfway house for men, run by a pastor who visited the jail every week.
After a few months Will was sentenced to 20 years, with 10 suspended. Miraculously, after two and a half years of prison he was released on parole. He passed up a well-paying carpentry job to return to finish the halfway house program.
His brother Tom, a successful Hollywood stunt coordinator, had not wanted anything to do with his wayward brother but offered him work if his parole officer approved.
Since then Will has worked on his biggest films yet, including Pirates of the Caribbean 5.
Nowadays Will says his thrills and purpose come from a different source, as he tells crowds about his relationship with Jesus and gives away a self-published book about his journey.
"Don't get me wrong, the stunt business is incredible," he says. "But it's nothing compared to working for God. Working for the Creator of the universe is a privilege and an honour."
Up until his life-changing decision to accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour, Will says he felt like everything seemed to go wrong in life. Now he embraces even the hard days.
"I am excited about life [now]," he concludes. "What a difference a Saviour makes!"•