A record-breaking Gloucester stuntman who wrecked 2,000 cars and appeared in 500 films has passed away aged 90 on Monday.
Daredevil Dick Sheppard held 18 Guinness World Records – once the most entries in the book – and did everything imaginable, and sometimes unimaginable, on wheels including featuring in the iconic film The Italian Job.
The father of nine once rode an ex-army motorbike through a 100 foot tunnel of fire, a record which four people died trying to beat before it was withdrawn from the Guinness Book of Records.
“Fondly known by many for his obsession with cars and motorbikes he was truly a larger than life character who caught the public’s attention with his daredevil stunts and world records,” wrote his family on his Facebook page today.
“His final wishes, however, were that we his family might grieve in private so we can reflect on his other roles as husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather.”
Dick, who was born, raised and lived in Gloucester, told the tale of his daredevil life a few years ago in an autobiography entitled Whirling Wheels and Dancing Hooves.
The book follows his career from his first motorcycle scramble at age nine, to turning down Cambridge University for a job in a motorcycle shop, to becoming a stunt man who featured in the Guinness Book of Records every year from 1969 to 1996.
“At school I was caned quite frequently and threatened with expulsion more than once for being a rebel,” said Dick, who attended Calton Road Junior School in Gloucester and then Crypt grammar school.
“In contradiction to the punishment the few masters who owned cars used to hand me the keys during the morning so that I spent the lunch hour cleaning the plugs and points and generally tuning their cars.”
“This I did more for the love of engines than any fondness I felt for the teachers.
“The happiness this gave me continued throughout my life whenever I got the maximum performance out of an engine, whether it was to win a Stock Car Race or achieve a new World Record.”
He finally retired in 1993 after wrecking his 2,000th car at a show in South Africa, but he kept 766 ignition keys from the cars he had written off.
He said he regarded his greatest achievements as being top points winner in Stock Car Racing for four consecutive seasons, his numerous world records, and writing a successful book about his exploits.
Not surprisingly Dick rated his favourite film The Italian Job, in which he was a car stunt driver.
“My favourite film of all time has got to be The Italian Job. It contains all the ingredients for a night of escapism at the cinema. It was a very low budget movie, but it was great fun to make, and it must be heading for the record of the most repeated film on TV,” he said.
He became a popular public speaker in his retirement and every Christmas he turned his large detached home in Stroud road, Gloucester, into a winter fairyland with numerous moving Santas, reindeers and other festive characters as well as thousands of lights.
“Over fifteen years the display raised more than £40,000 for charity, but it had to stop because Tony Blair introduced a law that all electrical extensions had to be tested and certified as safe by a qualified electrician,” said Dick.
Dick’s most recent public appearance was on Dec 21, 2020, when he went to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital to get a Covid vaccination and was heralded on the Gloucestershire NHS Facebook page.
“The jab was easy peasy for retired Hollywood movie stuntman Dick Sheppard, 90, from Gloucester,” the post said. “After getting the jab, he said ‘It’s taken a lot of organising, they’ve done very well. It was just a little prick that’s all, I’ve been excited to get it, but I’m needle-phobic!’
Dick is survived by his children and his third wife Phoebe.