top of page




Joe Zimmerman

After 4 very long decades, last year (2019) the world saw the last installment of one of the best and most prominent dramatic action adventure series developed for motion pictures.  Viewers and fans across the globe saw the completion of actor Sylvester Stallone’s iconic Rambo series come to an end with Rambo: Last Blood.  A befitting title considering the first installment released back on October 22nd, 1982 was First Blood.  The series, based on Canadian-born writer David Morrell's first novel in 1972 entitled First Blood, is about the compelling stories and the turmoil of a Vietnam War veteran, John Rambo, who suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder, played faithfully by Stallone who captured the hearts and souls of Americans and people from around the world.  The word “Rambo” itself today has turned into an international psyche for anyone who is just and retorts to lethal methods for retribution - patriots who stand for American values and will defend it with action is a prime example.


Even the 40th President of The United States of America Ronald Reagan from the White House Oval Office in an address to the nation on June 30th, 1985 humorously mentioned “Rambo” in reference to “how he should respond next time” to the 1985 TWA Beirut hijacking hostage crisis.  The president of the most powerful country on this planet jokingly referred to Rambo several times as a model for his policies as he did again two months later in front of 20,000 cheering Americans in a speech. 

Below:  “To President Reagan, Best of Life and All The Best For The Future” – Sylvester Stallone.  A gifted signed poster to Ronald Reagan presented by Stallone at a state Republican fundraising dinner in Los Angeles, California, in 1985.   Now at the Reagan Museum Private Archive.    


Although he was well known and loved for Rocky, First Blood turned Sylvester Stallone into a bona-fide international action hero.  But, Stallone and his fictitious heroic Rambo got some on-screen help to becoming these larger than life iconic figures that propelled them to superstar statues.  And that help was a godsend.

Below:  Sylvester Stallone riding high from the success of the First Blood and Rambo: First Blood Part II films, celebrates his 43rd birthday by pulling out a (non-Rambo) knife and cutting a cake surprised to him on the set of Tango and Cash on Thursday July 6th 1989 in downtown Los Angele’s city hall building.


Aiding the Rambo franchise to become an animated series, spawning comic books, novels, action figures, t-shirts and a series of motion picture sequels and making Rambo an astonishing success was a collaborated effort by some of the most talented people in the Hollywood industry… and one of those talents, who Sylvester Stallone described as “a world champion” was AME Pro Champion Racer and Stunt performer, Will Harper.


Flying to the small town of Hope in British Columbia, Canada in the fall of 1981 with virtually no notice or prep time, Will Harper set out to preform Rambo’s detailed stunt riding which the previous double was unable to execute.  So, to create and showcase John Rambo’s riding skills with “perfection” Will Harper jumped on a first-generation XT 1982 Yamaha 250 Cross Trail dual-sport bike and went on to create history and change people’s lives.

Below:  Will Harper (Left) helps set the first impression of John Rambo’s action skills.  Harper’s perfection as a rider in First Blood still garnishes comments throughout the internet with fans regularly calling it “one of the greatest chase scenes ever”.  It helped place (by the international distribution company) Rambo (Stallone, Right) and the motorcycle on the film’s International posters, showcasing what Harper had set in motion.


Hopping on that 249cc single-cylinder 4-stroke engine motorcycle Harper dodged gunfire, weaved in and around traffic while being chased at high speeds by Sheriff Teasle (played by the late character actor Brian Dennehy) driving in his 1979, 351 cubic inch engine Ford LTD II police cruiser through the real town of Hope.  The impression left by that chase scene today even has the town of Hope providing fans from all corners of the globe (Japan, Germany, England, Italy, The Netherlands as well as the United States) celebrations and tours throughout the various locations of the chase.  Where Stallone set in motion John Rambo’s connection (and intense buildup) with the devoted audience, Harper presented the character’s dynamic riding skills to solidify that connection and admiration.

Below:  “Rambo “First Blood” Tourism” can be found on Facebook for information on their next tour (Left).  Mass exodus of tourists on their way to the location where Will Harper as John Rambo jumped over 3 railroad tracks during the film’s dynamic chase scene (Right).


Below:  Tourists at the 3rd street train tracks where Will Harper leaped over the tracks journeying to their next destination (known on the tour as Location #3) at Fifth Avenue and Hudson Bay Street where Harper slid his Rambo bike into the edge of what is known as “H- Tree”, and where he performed his famous wheelie.


Along with everything else, another one of the many results of Harper’s (God-given) talent performing as Rambo in the motorcycle chase was indirectly helping a town survive through economic hardship.  The small commuter town of Hope, British Columbia today has embraced the film to keep their businesses (hotels, restaurants, etc.) alive with tourism.

Below:  The magnitude of Will Harper’s key roll and exceptional riding skills doubling Stallone on that Yamaha motorcycle is never more evident than by seeing how the town of Hope’s tourism division relies upon that motorcycle to keep local businesses alive.  Notes Tour Guide Brian McKinney, “A good friend of mine who works in film actually owns one of the 3 bikes used in the movie.  He brings it out whenever we do First Blood events so fans can get pictures with it.  We’re hoping that bike will be a fixture in our First Blood display when our new museum is built in the fall of 2021”.  The owner of the bike believes his version is the original one Stallone picks up off the street and used to ride down Wallace Street.


Tour Guide, Brian McKinney with the Hope Visitor Centre regularly accommodates eager fans visiting their town, sharing set locations and stories of the behind the scenes making of the film. 


Although accommodating the 15,000 to 20,000 annual visiting fans, McKinney is also available for private and personal tours with advance appointments by reaching him at:  As a young man, McKinney was actually present during the filming of First Blood and was on many of the production’s sets during lensing.  “I watched Stallone pull the stunt guy off the bike about 10 times, great memories.  I even had a buddy who was doing some set security at night so I was also able to watch some shooting in and around the Outpost Gun shop and of course the entire town of Hope was out for the Gas Station explosion”, shares McKinney.

Below:  Town of Hope resident and Visitor Center liaison Brian McKinney providing an all day tour of the action scenes from First Blood (Left), along with a program book page providing the exact mapping locations where the film segments including the motorcycle chase scenes were shot (Right).


One such story about the behind the scenes mishaps of the chase scene, recalls McKinney humorously, was that “Sylvester Stallone couldn’t ride a motorcycle if his life depended on it”.  Often throttling the bike poorly or being unstable on it.  At one particular time, stated McKinney, “Stallone actually lost control of the bike and it took off on its own and went into a crowd of onlookers and actually clipped the ankle of a lady in the crowd standing 20 feet away from the shot.


So, after losing the bike and seeing it clip the lady, concerned, Stallone goes running over to her asking if she’s okay while commotion sets within the crowd.  Then a PA (Production Assistant) comes running out from nowhere with a big wad of cash in his hand”.   Although the woman expressed pain, the more cash the PA provided her the faster the pain seemed to disappear.  Based on what McKinney explains, if I’d have to guess, I’d probably assume that episode occurred right after Stallone lifted the bike off the ground and he let the clutch out as he pulled on the throttle which caused the bike to pop a wheelie and sent him and the bike off frame.  Luckily for Rambo, Harper took over immediately after that cut.

Below:  After the initial establishing shot of Sylvester Stallone pulling the passerby motorcycle rider off his Yamaha XT250, and then getting onto the man’s motorcycle (Left & Center), and presumably sending the motorcycle into the crowd of onlookers, the “mind-blowing” riding (as Stallone described it) was then left to professional motocross champion, Will Harper (Right).

Behind the sene.jpg

They say your first impression could be your last, because you may never get a second chance.  Well, Harper leaping 100 feet across 2-3 railroad tracks and pulling wheelies in freezing cold and wet pavement was the first impression audiences from around the world got to see of John Rambo (Will Harper) in action, and they liked what they saw.  They liked it so much that upon release of the $14 Million budgeted film on October 22nd, 1982 it’s box office draw was more than $125 Million, despite mixed reviews (today that would be equivalent to $341,720,744.68)!


(Note:  Some reports indicate the original budget to be between $11 and $17 Million)


Will, I mean Rambo, was unstoppable.  That opening chase scene left quite an impression where Will Harper made Rambo’s bike skills indeed seem perfect, perfect enough to rival even James Bond’s abilities.  But, perfection is a very hard thing to create or live up to, and even though First Blood’s chase sequence is truly awe inspiring and is almost a work of cinematic art in the action world (that contains no CGI), it’s not without its flaws.


Whether it’s Rambo escaping out of the Sheriff's station with his enormous stainless steel 13 ½ inch survival knife (designed by Arkansas knife-smith Jimmy Lile) in its leather sheath shoved into his pants waistband yet still protruding high enough to almost reach his chest, the audience lost in Will’s riding could care less and dismissed the fact that it’s not really noticeable while Stallone rode.


We’ll have to assume Rambo pushed 13-14 inches of leather and steel down his pants I guess?  And then there’s the old “one minute there’s a rear view mirror in the sheriff’s vehicle and the next minute there isn’t”.


Or, in one scene the cruiser’s back hubcap goes flying off the wheel and then miraculously repairs.


Or, that in one shot when Rambo jumps over the edge of the road onto someone’s property there isn’t a wired fence there, but yet when the Sheriff’s car follows over the edge, a wired fence miraculously appears (maybe an optical illusion).

No FenceUseThis.jpg

In addition to the visuals, yes the chase scene’s audio has a pretty big whopper of a goof as well.  Although legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith composed the film’s outstanding soundtrack, the director Ted Kotcheff cut all the music out of the chase, wanting the audience to hear what the two men in the chase would hear; the sirens, the skids, the engines.  Basically Kotcheff was trying to create similarly to what director Peter Yates had done 13 years earlier in 1968 in the iconic car chase sequence with Steve McQueen in Bullitt, stopping composer Lalo Schifrin’s superb music as the sound of the burning tires starts the chase.  In regard to what the audience was hearing in the First Blood chase sequence, motorcycle aficionados’ have noted that the sound engineers in postproduction had swapped the Yamaha XT 250’s 4-stroke engine sound to a 2-stroke sound.  Either the post audio engineer didn’t know anything about motorcycles, or it was a deliberate creative move to emphasize the atmosphere of the chase.  As a side note it’s worth mentioning it was reported Steve McQueen was actually considered at one point to play John Rambo but production inevitably considered him too old to play a Vietnam veteran from 1975.


So, as noted, the chase sequence although wonderful, is not perfect.  Like people, none of us really are but we should always strive to do our best.  Striving for perfectionism is admirable and that’s exactly what the producers of First Blood got when Will Harper arrived, they got perfectionism.  A perfectly skilled and superior motorcyclist who could make John Rambo a perfectly skilled rider, because Will himself strived to be the best rider he could be.

Below:  Will Harper starting a motocross racing career at the ripe old age of 15.


A natural talent who won the first of his three pro motocross Championships by the time he was 19, he’s seen victories as a winner in 2 consecutive championships during 1974-1975 with AME (American Motocross Enterprises) in the 250 Pro Class.

Below:  Harper at the top of his game.


Along with his brother, Tommy, he’s won Grand National championships in go Karts in California and in 1984 in Illinois and has even taken home a win in the California pro Karts championship in Saugus.  He eventually moved up to NASCAR stock cars and in 1989 and 1990 was the champion in the feature division called the Sportsman Class (which was basically late model stock cars) winning two years in a row.


Unfortunately though during his early motocross racing career, by the time he was 24 years old, serious injuries, that included 2 bad shoulders and 2 bad knees started taking their toll on his body and he migrated to performing stunt work for the motion picture industry.  Continuing to use his natural ability despite his injuries Will Harper proved he was unstoppable.

Below:  Will Harper (center) performing motorcycle stunts for the television and motion picture industry.


Essentially when Will Harper set his mind to conquer something he went all out.  And when he went all out in First Blood, as previously stated, he conquered a world audience and changed lives.


Joe:  So, Will, you’re the rider who stood in for Sylvester Stallone in the first instalment of the Rambo series as his motorcycle stunt double in First Blood?


Will:  Well, everything from the time Stallone leaves the Sherriff’s station and gets onto the motorcycle until he got into the forest and dirt, that was me doing the riding.  And everything in the dirt and mud, were a couple of other guys.


Joe:  Oh, okay.  You did the town and the freeway stuff.  Very cool.  How did you get the job?


Will:  It was 1981 and I was working on location in Philadelphia on a film called Fighting Back starring Tom Skerritt and I got a phone call from Mike (Michael) Runyard, who was probably the best motorcycle stuntman in the business at the time and overall one of the top guys in the history of stunt riders.  He called me and said he got a call to stunt double Stallone on this movie but couldn’t do it.  And the stunt man that they have there can’t do the stunt they’re asking for because it’s pretty technical, and so he asked me if I could go up there.  I told him I didn’t know because I had to talk to the stunt coordinator I was working for at the time, Alan Gibbs.  Alan and I were really good friends so I told him I had this opportunity to double Sylvester Stallone and he enthusiastically said, “oh, take it, I got you covered here.  Don’t worry about it.”  So I jumped on a plane and flew to the location in Canada.  


Joe:  How much time transpired between the time Mike Runyard called you to the time you set foot on set in Canada?


Will:  Oh, it was just a matter of days.  I mean I think I was probably on the next flight out of there.


Joe:  So you didn’t have any prep time going into this?


Will:  No, no but when I got there, this is what was going on.  They had spent all day with the 1st unit using the other stunt double doing as much as 13 takes and still couldn’t get the shot that they wanted.  So they weren’t very happy because of the time and expense wasted.  I mean I understood because the conditions weren’t ideal and it was real cold.  But the very first thing I did was this big logging truck scene which was the whole reason why I even got to do the movie (because the stuntman they had couldn’t do it), but lo-and-behold they ended up cutting it out of the movie.  And it was so gnarly and probably the coolest stunt I did on the entire show, and they didn’t even use it.


Joe:  Insane.  Now you peeked my interest.  So what was the stunt sequence?  What did they have you doing?


Will:  Well, what it was is Rambo is riding down the middle of the road in the opposite direction of traffic in between cars and he’s almost having these head-on collisions on this two lane road and it’s pretty exciting and then he comes up to an intersection and looks up and there’s a huge logging truck with logs twenty feet in the air driving by.  I was going about 50mph and I (not laying the bike down mind you, but) I’m sliding sideways towards the camera as that truck went by (close to the camera) and I was supposed to come in as close to the camera as I could and make a circular turn.  They wanted a real tight circular turn, and I mean super tight.  I think that was the part that gave the previous double a hard time because I think he was coming in and doing this 25 foot circular turn.  But the problem with that was you could see that it wasn’t Stallone riding.  The shot required it to be super close to the camera so when the bike did the tight circular turn, the camera’s focus blurred and you couldn’t tell it wasn’t Stallone because it happened so fast.  And by the time the camera got back into focus the rider would have turned already and ridden away from camera and again you couldn’t tell it wasn’t Stallone because his back would be to the lens.  But you couldn’t do this big long turn where the audience could definitely see it wasn’t Stallone, it had to be real close to the camera, very fast, with a super tight circular turn.


Joe:  So that’s the first gag you did when you arrived to location?


Will:  Yeah, and this is funny because I had never worked for this stunt coordinator before, Conrad Palmisano.  And, I remember him telling me to make that turn really tight, and I said “Okay, okay I’ll make it tight.”  Well, I came in sideways and I actually thought I was going to hit the truck and go underneath it and I’d be dead.  I mean the street was frozen and I was also using my front brake.  It was really sketchy for a moment there.  I mean I really sold out, maybe a little too much, but anyway I came in and put my front wheel almost right next to the camera’s tripod and then I just clutched it and spun the bike around doing a doughnut and went the opposite way the truck was coming, so now I’m going the other way and then I slid sideways again as the back of the truck went by and then I wheelied out of the shot.  It really was such a cool stunt.  I nailed that thing and it was so gnarly.  I mean I was the one riding and I myself was actually kind of scared a little bit, it was that real.  I’m thinking this was awesome and he (the stunt coordinator) is gonna love this and so I ride up to Conrad and look at his face and he’s looking totally bummed.  And I’m thinking, oh man, if he’s not happy with that, I got no more than that and I’ve gotta tone it down or I might get killed here.  But he saw my body language, where I was totally slumped over, because I couldn’t hide my disappointment if he wasn’t happy.  It totally bummed me out because I was so happy I had nailed it.  I mean I felt like this little kid in front of his dad thinking look what I did and then I see him look all bummed out, but he looks at me and notices my disappointment and said, “no, no, no, no, what you did was awesome!  It’s just that you scared the crap out of the camera man and he jumped out of the way and we lost the shot!”  And I was like, “Oh, okay cool.  Was that all?”  I understood because when I came in I really put that front wheel almost right on the edge of that tripod.  So I ended up doing it 4 more times in a row: bam, bam, bam, bam and it was beautiful and we moved on.  And they were really happy but I was so bummed when that scene didn’t show up in the movie.  I was like “are you kidding me, after all that”?! 


Joe:  Why do you think they cut the scene out of the final version?


Will:  I think because, even though I did it even better than what they were asking for, it still didn’t look like Stallone or maybe they couldn’t cut it together right.  I really don’t know?  I just know I gave them everything they asked for and did it 4 times exactly the same way each time.  And, they were happy and said “we got it”.


Joe:  Shame they never put it on the DVD as an added bonus extra deleted scene.


Will:  They have it, I think. Or maybe something did happen to the film?  I don’t know.  But they had 4 takes of it minus the one when the cameraman jumped up.  But it’s too bad.  I did know the producer, Buzz Feitshans and probably if I really would have tried I might have been able to get something from that.  I just wish I would have even had some stills from it because that would have been some classic footage of that huge logging truck up there in that little town doubling Stallone like that.  That would have been some really nice photos, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Authors note:  After extensive research, and contacting “First Blood’s” production crew from Joseph Lederer, the on-set still photographer, to the director himself, Ted Kotcheff (and his wife, Laifun), because of the length of time that has transpired, finding out what had become of this deleted stunt sequence was difficult.  Everyone had simply forgotten, or as Lederer stated regarding images of the sequence, “we photographed with film (back then) and had no back up as we do today with digital.”  In the end, most likely the reason the logging truck stunt sequence was omitted was because as the film’s editor Thom Noble explained it to me, “Joe, although my assistant editor Joan Chapman and I honestly can’t remember after all these years, I have a feeling that in those days since we didn’t have the ability to do (digital) face replacement, and because the stunt man was obviously not Sly, the sequence just never made the cut.”

Logs (2)uSE.jpg

Additional note:  Although Joan Chapman is credited as the movie’s editor, because Thom Noble was unfortunately having problems with the “Editor’s Guild” at the time, he had to transfer his title to his assistant, Chapman, who has since been incorrectly recognized as the sole “Editor” of “First Blood” while he (the original editor) had to settle for a meaningless “Visual Consultant” title.

Below:  Very rare photos taken with an old Polaroid camera of the actual logging truck parked on the corner of Wallace St. and Fraser Ave., during filming of First Blood in 1981.  Photo’s provided by Mr. Brian McKinney.


Joe:  Will, in regard to the bike you rode, were you familiar with that Yamaha before you rode it?  I think that line of production of the XT250 was fairly new.


Will:  Yeah, I was.  It was a 4 stroke enduro bike.  Although you could do street and some off-road with it, it was not an ideal bike for all the stunts they were asking me to do with it.  I would have probably broken it in half in one of the stunts they asked me to do, so I told them “no way” because the bike wouldn’t have been able to handle the stress.


Joe:  But you did use that bike to jump over the railroad tracks?


Will:  Yeah, that jump was really a better jump than I thought it was going to be.  It wasn’t hard.  It wasn’t a hard landing.  That bike handled that jump fine.  But, the original jump they wanted me to do, which I didn’t do, and which wasn’t in the movie was very different.  He wanted me to jump straight down on to this bridge, off in the woods, and I said, “man I’ll go right through that bridge.”  So he said, “well, we’ll put some plywood over it and make it stronger.”  And I explained, “then I’m going to break the bike in half and probably snap a leg because I’d be hitting it so hard.”  That bike was not made for that.  Even on a better bike it would have been sketchy.  It wouldn’t have been a fun thing.  I mean it was a long straight down drop with a vertical landing, and on a jump like that you never wanna jump straight down unless you’re landing on a slope.  To jump down like that the way they wanted, to a flat surface, well it’s the hardest most hellacious landing where people snap their wrists holding on to the handle bar, blow knees out or break some other body part.  It just wasn’t a good idea, so I simply said “no”.  But he said, “ok, that’s cool.  Let’s move on.”


Joe:  Right.  Although there looks to be 2 separate tracks there today, back in 1981 there looked to be 3 tracks that you went over during the train track jump.  Did anyone ever measure the distance you flew?  I mean it looked pretty far. 


Will:  I’d guess that was about 100 feet.  Most guys would have said how gnarly it was, you know to make it a big deal, which I probably should have, but it really was a pretty easy jump.  At that time I was still a top pro rider.  I won 2 professional championships with AME in Southern California and I was racing against the best guys like Bob Hannah, Donny Hansen, I mean these guys went on to be some of the great champions but unfortunately I got hurt and went into stunts.  I could still ride at that level but I just couldn’t race at that level anymore.  Looking back at it now, what seemed easy to me then would be a little harder today.  If I were to do that jump now, today, I’d probably say, wow that was gnarly, but back then it was like no big deal.


Joe:  Speaking of no big deal, you were riding really hard in those sequences and you were only wearing Rambo’s tank top t-shit.  You didn’t wear a helmet or have any upper body protection like shoulder pads, elbow pads or spine protectors.  I mean as well as the cold slowing down your physical reflexes, you looked completely vulnerable if you took a spill.


Will:  Back in the day I used to work on my 450 and 490 Maicos, which were the most powerful dirt bikes at the time.  I’d be working on those bikes in my dad’s garage in Encino, California and after I’d get done, I’d start them up barefoot which was totally crazy because even with a boot on people would break their ankles starting those bikes.  After working on them, I would take the bikes out and all I’d be wearing would be shorts, like swim shorts.


Will (Cont.):  No shirt, no shoes, no nothing and I would go out on Louise Avenue and I would wheelie through the gears right in the middle of the street and I didn’t care if cars were coming from the other way, kind of like I was telling you how I rode in First Blood, I’d just go right in between them.  Actually that was kind of fun for me back in the day, but now it would terrify me.  Anyway, no helmet, no nothing, because I was kind of used to acting like an idiot, so the stunt riding in First Blood, well I was kind of used to riding like that.  So, it didn’t feel crazy to me at the time.  But I will tell you I had done a stunt on television for the show, The A-Team, with no helmet on and I look back on that and yeah that bothered me because of the explosion and fire and it was such a miracle I didn’t kill myself that day.  Anyway, at that point on First Blood, I had so much confidence of my skill level that I never thought of the consequences.  But at that time I think I should have been thinking about the consequences because I had already hurt both knees and both shoulders, which is why I couldn’t really race at competition level anymore.  But I was still young and dumb and a little on the wild side.  Looking back, I might have been that way because I probably liked the attention, like, “hey look at me, I’m crazy” while I was showing off.


I remember I used to ride around without a helmet on the street back in the day on a big Honda 750 street bike.  And one time I put this old girlfriend of mine on the back of the bike and we took off from a party on Laurel Canyon and I did a wheelie down the street with her on the back and she told me years later that the guy she wound up marrying, who was there at the party, well he was crying because he thought his future wife was gonna die that night.  That was the kind of stuff I use to do as a knucklehead.

Joe:  Yeah, but that knucklehead was preparing to help create and turn Rambo into an American icon.  So it was all meant to happen the way it did.  The way I see it is that those moments of imperfection (making those knucklehead decisions), made you who you were.  And who you were was the person God planned to help create perfection in this character, Rambo’s skills, which in-turn now helps feed people in a small town in British Columbia who rely on tourism which you on that motorcycle helped create.


Will:  Yeah that’s true.


Joe:  So getting back to that train track crossing jump at 3rd Ave., you were there when Brian Dennehy’s double got hurt making that jump chasing after you.  They say he went off the ramp at 70mph and landed smack down on the vehicle’s chassis.  


Will:  Yes, Bennie E. Dobbins broke his back.  He suffered a compression lumbar fracture.  I looked back after I did my jump and was like how in the hell did he get way up there in that car - I couldn’t believe it.  That thing just launched.  He must have been like 12 feet in the air.  It wasn’t supposed to be that big of a jump.  He wasn’t a young guy either.  I knew something was wrong because he sort-of faded to the wrong side of the road with the cruiser, and then he just opened the door and fell out.  He just wanted to get out of the car and lay flat.


Joe:  I heard the story from the Hope town tour which stated in regard to Bennie’s jump that Ted Kotcheff asked the 2nd Unit Director, the stunt coordinator Conrad Palmisano “how about we hit the ramp a little bit higher, a little bit faster and a little bit harder” and Conrad asked Ted “what would you like” and Ted said “how about 70mph”.  So Bennie took off from 3rd and Wallace and went off the ramp too fast, too high and too far and when the car landed, it landed so hard the frame and chassis blew right from underneath it.  So they brought in a second car for another take and the second take is what they ended up using.  That’s what the tour explains.  But I got a feeling that second take they’re referring to is actually the cut to the landing portion and not the actual jump.  


Will:  Yeah he just wasn’t supposed to be that high.  I think I was just around 8 feet in the air for that.  I barely stood up going across the tracks.  I basically rode it sitting down or had my rear close to the seat with my legs at about a 90-degree angle.  I think I just let the bike fall away a little bit.  And my legs took a little bit of the landing as I slightly raised my butt up.  You know you never think about that stuff because you’re so preprogrammed from all the years of riding.  It all kind of just happens naturally.  You don’t even think about it.  But I’m pretty sure I landed way past the tracks on the downhill side past the crossing.  Anyway so what I remember was Dobbins wasn’t supposed to be that high.


Author’s Side Note:  Brad Miller, a local who worked on First Blood as an on-set paramedic during the stunt-riding days, and who found himself at nights also doing some on-camera driving and background extra work in the movie, was usually in the film-truck for the tracking shots, when the camera setups were not static shots.  As Brad explains, “I was in the film-truck when the motorcycle was mounted on the trailer and Stallone was sitting on the bike.  Then for the other motorcycle scenes where the bike was not on the trailer, the bike was ridden by the stunt man.”  But as for the train track jump by Bennie Dobbins driving the sheriff’s car, when he broke his back chasing Will Harper, Brad states, “the kicker-ramp they used that caused the injury wasn’t even necessary.  I mean we local kids jumped those train tracks almost nightly, usually getting at least a 20-30’ airtime, maybe 2’ high.  I was one of those kids that jumped those tracks.  I mean every kid with a car did it back then, years before they even shot the movie.  We’d even pace the trains to jump in front of them.”  So, it seems the ramp may not have even been necessary for the stunt driver and to have gone as fast as he did.  Brad points out, “we could even get a moped to do it (the jump) at full throttle.”   


Below:  Real life set paramedic Brad Miller ready to lift Brian Dennehy in to his real government rig ambulance, “They decided at the last minute that night to switch from an army ambulance to my government rig.  So, you can see me in the movie.  I’m the guy at the far left when Stallone walks out, at the end of the movie”.


Joe:  So Will, how many times did you have to do that jump?


Will:  After Dobbins hurt himself on the first take I remember they still did stuff with me there so I believe I may have done it a few times.  I remember a train came along and it was a spur of the moment thing but they had me ride up to the train and skid around and ride off.  That was a little sketch too.


Joe:  How cool is that.


Will:  Oh yeah, and that’s something probably nobody would have remembered including me if you and I didn’t spend time now talking about it.  This jogged my memory.  So that was a spur of the moment thing that unfortunately also didn’t make it into the movie.


Below:  First Blood tourist guide and resident liaison from the Visitor’s Center of Hope, Brian McKinney showcases to a gathering crowd the famous “H-Tree” location, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Hudson Bay Street where Will Harper slid into the edge of this now famous tree and where he performed a wheelie while escaping the pursuing sheriff Teasle.


Joe:  You know I have to say at that now famous “H-Tree” spot where you slid into the shot and your back tire looked like it actually hit and banged into the cement curb surrounding the tree, that was beyond cool how you held it together.


Will:  That was all movie magic.  It was a little bit slippery there and I just came in skidding sideways.  Again feet up with my foot on the brake and then went around the tree.  But it looked like I hit the tree, but I didn’t.  It was kind of a long shot and so my going behind that thing the way I skidded, it just looked violent.  That optical illusion from where the camera was placed and where my back tire came to a stop only made it look a little scary like I hit that cement tree barrier, but I didn’t and it worked out beautifully.


Joe:  It absolutely did.  From the audience’s perspective you not only come in sliding where we think you might lose the bike from the slide alone, but then it appears like you’ll lose the bike again because we think you hit that tree barrier.  And then you take us to the next level by maintaining your balance and finally topping it off by throttling it up against those odds and finishing it all up by performing that classic wheelie to boot.  I mean you immediately popped up that front wheel and held that wheelie perfectly so the front wheel covered your face, and then as you brought the front wheel down you looked back at the sheriff’s car.  Man that was perfect placement, perfect timing and perfect talent - really superb.  It truly was a work of art.


Will:  Yeah that was something I did because I was not a good double for Stallone.  He had a very thin face and I had a big block-head.  I asked the stunt coordinator if he wanted me to do that wheelie to hide my face because I was riding towards the camera and he said “that would be awesome”.  So after the wheelie, as soon as that front tire started coming down I turned back over my shoulder so you couldn’t see my face.  I did a lot of looking back because we knew I was a crappy double for him.


Joe:  Well, you’re body seemed to be in shape physically to match him.


Will:  I’ve never really lifted weights, but my body was fairly muscular from racing motocross for all those years.  I was no way as muscular as Stallone because he was just pumping iron all the time.  But I never really worried about that because riding and holding on to the bike my arms were naturally flexing my muscles, so it looked fine.  The muscularity difference never caught my attention as much as the facial structure difference.  I mean if you look at the portion of my riding through the gas station it’s kind of apparent it’s me.  On the big screen in theaters you can really tell it’s me.  It’s pretty funny.


Below:  With closer inspection it becomes apparent that it’s Will Harper performing Rambo’s getaway through the gas station sequence.


Joe:  The Rambo knife that Stallone was using was pretty big, like 13 ½ inches.  Did you have any issues with it while riding, because it had to be in your waist and down your pants?


Will:  I don’t think so, nah … Production was very particular about the real knives.  They were a big deal.  They were like $3,500.00 a piece back then in 1981 (today that would equal $9,230.00), and they probably had about 6 or 7 of them made for the movie, so they were real funny with those real ones.  So I probably used the prop knives which were the same shape but nothing like the real ones.


Joe:  So how long were you on location when you were filming your scenes?


Will:  I think I was there exactly 2 weeks.  I believe I wasn’t invited back because I simply didn’t look like Stallone.  As I mentioned, our heads are shaped differently and I was taller than him.


Below: (Left) Sylvester Stallone hitched to the camera-truck.  (Right) Will Harper doubles Stallone.


Will (Cont):  Oh, relating to this about my height - this is funny.  Production was using a motorhome as a makeshift make-up and hair dressing room.  So they told me they were going to size me up next to Stallone.  Now, it was super cold so I was wearing moon boots which was a mistake on my part but I didn’t think about it until it was too late, and I’ll explain why.  So, I’m going into this motorhome and start walking inside down the hallway.  I can feel my hair skimming along the ceiling.  It wasn’t a very high ceiling, and with the moon boots on I was probably around 6 foot 4 inches tall.  Stallone was sitting in the back and they said to him “hey Sly we got your stunt double here”.  Stallone got up and started walking towards me.


As we approach each other I still feel my hair touching and rubbing along the top of the ceiling.  Stallone looks at me and starts noticing that I’m kinda bending my knees because he’s not as tall as I am.  I mean when he went to shake my hand I could see that there was almost a foot between his hair and the ceiling.  So, I’m thinking damn, with these boots on I’m almost a foot taller than him, and so yeah, I bent my knees a little to match our heights.  But he was funny, he says “Hey, I saw that!”  Looking at my bent knees, he jokingly said, “this kid is too big.”  And I remember him just laughing, so that was great.  It was funny.  You know some actors get upset about that kind of stuff.  He didn’t.


Joe:  Stallone is sharp and it sounds like he was good about it.


Will:  Oh, yeah.  He pointed at my knees and said he saw me bending them.  It was funny and we all laughed.  He was great.


Joe:  Well it seems Stallone liked you because on the DVD commentary track he noted production hired a “world champion” to double him and while referring to your wheelie scene stated what you were doing was “mind-blowing”.


Will:  Yeah, it was fun.  I took over the riding the second after Stallone picks up the bike off the ground and pops that little wheelie out of frame.  Then there’s a cut and you see me going into the intersection and sliding into the traffic.  Minus the shot Stallone rides on the sidewalk yelling at the pedestrians, it was all me until after you see me slide the bike for a right turn in the dirt to get off the main freeway.  And that was the end of my section.  


Below:  From the immediate cut after Stallone picks up the Yamaha enduro off the ground and pops a wheelie out of frame, Will Harper takes over and performs a matching wheelie into a sliding stop in front of the intersection traffic.


Joe:  So that was you all the way to where the sheriff’s cruiser spun out trying to make that right turn off the highway on the gravel?  That was a long skid on your part and kinda tricky because you had to keep your right foot on the back brake which makes it hard to turn hard right on that dirt because you couldn’t drop your right leg to balance and hold yourself.


Will:  Yeah, exactly.  I had to keep my right foot on the brake and downshift to slow down after coming into the shot from 60mph over a frozen road.  At the same time, I had to keep my balance while skidding and sliding now on gravel and leaning to turn right.  So, while I’m braking with my right foot, I’m trying to find the right time to drop that foot to the ground to make the corner which I barely did, just missing a wooden post.  It was close.  Then I had to gas it.  It was a little problematic but just took some skill, kind of like what I had to do for the logging truck scene that the previous double wasn’t able to do.  Stuff like that just requires a lot of experience to do it well.


Joe:  Crazy.  That Yamaha’s top speed was around 75 mph and you were coming in at 60 mph so you must have been freezing.  Was the weather a factor for you?  Were your hands cramping up because of the cold?  I mean I have a problem just using the clutch on my bike if my hands are bare on a cold day.  And, the average temperature back then on location for you was between 30 to 40 degrees.  So, with the wind-chill factor and your speed, it had to be minus 0.


Will:  Oh, yeah I was hypothermic.  They had to wet me all down too because Stallone got hosed down in the jail house just before he escaped, so they wet me down good.  Wet wig, squirted my body down with water so I’m wearing a wet t-shirt the entire time.  But, they would keep a blanket on me and then just before I rode I’d take it off.  They’d yell action and I’d do the stunt.  I’d come back all purple and shaking uncontrollably, not feeling anything and then they’d wrap me back up in the blanket again and throw me into a dressing room to warm me back up.  Yeah, it was ridiculous.  But if it were now, I’d say I’m not ready yet, I’m not warm.  But back then as soon as I could feel my hands again, and I felt half-way decent I’d go again.  But yeah it was horrible.


Joe:  Did you have any spills because of that or because the roads were wet and icy, you know maybe from black ice?


Will:  I don’t think I fell one time.  As I had said, I was so on top of my game at the time.  I wish I had that kind of command over motorcycles today.  I mean I still do race.  I race at the 65-expert class.  But I get upset at myself because I can’t make the motorcycle do what I want it to do.  And I know how to do it, I just can’t.  When you’re young, strong and fearless you can just do those things.  I mean I was able to do things in my youth that I can’t even think about doing anymore.  But I never went down then.  No.


Joe:  Speaking of your youth, when did you first get interested in motorcycles?


Will:  Oh, when I was a little kid, I saw a guy riding a mini-bike down the street.  So, I told my dad I wanted a mini-bike.  Although my dad could afford to get me things, he grew up during the great depression so he just wasn’t the type of father that bought us stuff.  He just wasn’t like that.  But I was so surprised one day when he showed up with this really cool bike.  It was a paratrooper’s bike.  I wish I still had it today.  I think they’re worth a fortune if anyone has one.  They were from the war.  They use to fold them up and throw them out of airplanes with parachutes on them.  And the paratroopers would unfold them when they landed and ride them around during World War 2.  It had a little thumb clutch and a throttle and a foot brake.  So I was probably 7 years old at the time when he taught me how to ride that thing.  We’d go to the back street of our house which was on a cul-de-sac.  He kind of helped me let the clutch out the first time and we’d turn around and he’d tell me to stop and we’d pull the clutch.  And then he’d say, “okay, let’s go.  Give it a little gas”.  I gave it some gas and I popped the clutch and we looped it out and we both landed in the street.  I ended up sitting on the street laughing, and he was laughing so hard.  I thought he was gonna be mad because he was a pretty gnarly guy but he was just laughing.  He thought that was so funny.


Joe:  What ever happened to that bike?


Will:  A neighbor girl ended up trashing it and bending the forks so I quit riding it and started riding one of my dad’s Triumph 200 Cub.  His deal was this.  He said, “If you can start it, you can ride it”.  So, I was able to start that thing at about 8 or 9 years old.  And so I rode it until I blew the bottom end out of it.  Then I was without a bike again so I was looking at this 650 Triumph.  And just like the previous deal I had with my dad, “If you can start it, you can ride it”.  Well, I could barely touch the ground on that thing but I started it right up and rode that bike for a couple of more years in the field across the street every day.  Then finally when I turned 15 years old and motocross was starting to get big and the lightweight real motocross bikes were starting to come into the country, I had saved up enough money to buy a bike called an American Eagle 125 and raced it in my first race at Baymare in Moorpark, California.  Then I slowly moved up to the expert class and won those championships and got sponsorships and then blew out my last knee and that was the end.  From then on I knew I was done.


Below:  15 year old Will Harper around 1970 and his American Eagle 125 Comanche.


Joe:  So how did you wind up from the race tracks to show business?


Will:  Well, motocross was the love of my life.  It was the only thing I really lived for or understood.  My original plan was to be world champion.  And I had the skills to get there too. So you can imagine how bummed out I was because of these injuries.  I mean without racing I felt like there wasn’t a reason left for living.  That’s how depressed I was. I truly had the potential to be world champion but after those injuries I knew that would never be possible and I had nothing to fall back on.  I had no spiritual relationship for guidance and I was simply lost.  So, although I was an athlete, I gave up and started partying and doing drugs.  In my mind if I couldn’t be the best there was, there was no reason to be the athlete that I was.  So I got in trouble with drugs.  But God was watching over me like he watches over all of us, and I ended up talking to a stuntman friend I knew, Rich Humphreys, who was working on Dukes of Hazzard and he said, “Willy, if you teach me how to ride a motocross bike better, I’ll get you in the stunt business”.  So I said, “sure”.  Prior to this I had done a small independent movie in 1978.  My brother, Tommy Harper, and our friend Joel Kramer, who both eventually became top stunt coordinators in Hollywood, and myself all worked on our first movie together on this low budget George Barris film called Jet Set Disco (aka. Disco Fever, Jukebox). 


Below (Center):  Will Harper making his first on-screen appearance jumping his Maico motocross bike in George Barris, king of Hollywood Custom Car designer’s film, Disco Fever.  Below (Right):  Left to Right, Tommy Harper, Will Harper (center in yellow) and Gary Davis.


Will (Cont.):  We knew George Barris well, he was like a family friend.  So he was producing this movie and said to us, “Hey I’m having this motorcycle stuff in this movie and do you guys want to be in it”?  So, my brother and I did the motocross stuff.  Joel did some of it too and even had a little acting part in it as a character named Danny.  So I had a taste of film stunt work before I really got into the business.  I remember the movie even had Fabian in it.


Anyway, I knew the partying that I was doing was wrong and I didn’t want to continue doing that so I thought Rich Humphreys offer would be cool.  So, he introduced me to legendary stunt coordinator Alan Gibbs.  Gibbs was amazing.  He’s probably the very most talented all-around stuntman I’ve ever known.  He could literally do anything you asked of him; horses, fights, cars, motorcycles, high falls.  He did it all.  Anyway, he and I hit it off and he got me in the stunt business by having me do motocross riding scenes in a 1980 motorcycle film for Disney called, The Devil and Max Devlin.  It starred Bill Cosby and Elliott Gould.  That’s where I got my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card. 


Joe:  Do you have any favorite stunt gags that you’ve done?


Will:  Sure in 1981 during the first season of the A-Team, episode 6 called Bad Day at Black Rock.  During the last 10 minutes of that episode you’ll see a gang of Hells Angels-type bikers coming in to tear up a small town.  I’m one of those guys.  The first thing I did was go through the front glass window of the sheriff’s station on my bike with Mike Runyard and Reid Rondell on either side of me.  I was in the middle.  I was the only one who got up from that because they both blew their knees out.


Below:  To give a break to his injured ravaged body from motocross racing Will Harper enters the Hollywood stunt industry.  Stunt men Mike Runyard busting though the door (left), with Will Harper (Center), and Reid Rondell (Right) both coming through the window on NBC’s The A-Team.



Will (Cont.):  Besides that window gag for that show I also did a laydown of a bike and then I did the big one where I’m riding a bike along the street and Mr. T fires a shotgun through a window to supposedly blow this car’s gas tank up as I’m riding by.  The shot and blast causes me to run the bike into the back of the car and go flying over it and come out on the other side on fire.  Although I was able to put some pads on for that one I didn’t have a helmet on.      


Joe:  Was that the stunt your legs caught on fire?


Will:  Yeah, it wasn’t supposed to but the pyro guy pressed the button too early and it blew all the gasoline which sprayed all along my legs and then he ignited the big fireball and I came out the other side with my legs on fire and bounced off the hood of the car with my back and stuck the landing perfectly with my legs in the dirt, which I didn’t originally intend to do.  I’m not a gymnast but it looked like I was.  It was one of those dumb luck things.  I stuck it so good I thought it was going to look lame so I just decided to fall over to my side.  And when I did I realized, oh, crap I’m on fire!  So I used my gloved hands to pad it and smother it out.  But it all looked cool.


Below:  The unstoppable Will Harper performs an incredible stunt on NBC’s television hit show, The A-Team.


Joe:  Very nice.  So things were going well for you doing stunt work?

Will:  Yeah, for about 4 years, until I did a stunt on this Mel Gibson film called The River where I fell underneath a ten-ton stake bed truck with twenty-five guys on top of it that crushed me.  I should have been dead for sure.  The truck’s duel back tires rolled over my chest and the sound of my chest being crushed sounded like dried tree branches snapping in two.

My injuries were very severe.  I had a broken neck, shoulder, ribs, elbow, plus torn muscles and other internal injuries.  It was a miracle I survived, but performing stunts for a living was over for me.  The depression returned and I lost my way again.  But later in life after experiencing enough negative events that included prison time, I found salvation through my personal relationship with God.  From that encounter I found guidance and have been clean and sober for nearly 17 years now.  And it’s been amazing how good life is.  I reestablished my relationship with my brother and returned to the stunt industry - First as a stuntman and then as a stunt rigger.  With God I found the inner strength to deal with hard times.  I don’t fold up or need to get drunk or get high or what have you.  Discovering the lord gave me the ability to face things that would have previously caused me to withdraw.  That discovery and connection was a game changer, Joe.

Will Harper is himself a game changer, a simple man with a God-given talent to ride like a bat out of hell who upped the action in a movie called First Blood to an extraordinary level that not only caught the attention of audiences from around the world, but helped propel Sylvester Stallone to superstar statues and roused heads of states.  He changed and influenced people’s lives as well as facilitated a small town’s economy to help its citizens survive.  He’s a man that defied certain death for a reason after being run over by a 10 ton truck.  That reason becomes clearer and clearer after each passing day. 

On a personal level, l can say doing these interviews have allowed me to speak to and thank the people that have influenced my life, whether to go into the stunt business, or just ride motorcycles.  Everyone gets their inspiration from others and Will Harper has done his share of inspiring and influencing.


Below:  Examples of the influence Will Harper has made on others.  From his God-given talent as a motocross perfectionist helping to create the legend of Rambo (Left), to his very personal, yet public motivational lectures (Right).  Harper has made an impact on so many.


Finally, as time passes, sometimes memories get swept away like sand on a beach.  Often our historical past gets misconstrued and places and events get mixed up, with confusion and fabrication often getting branded as fact, where assorted gossip and interpretation without correction creates a false history.  After nearly 40 years of just that, regarding this motorcycle scene, it was about time we heard the true story of First Blood’s iconic motorcycle chase through the streets and freeways of Hope from the very man who was Rambo while riding that bike.  And for this reason, I am grateful to Will Harper for his time and candor.


Below:  Left unchecked, stories, statements, word-of-mouth and editorial comments like this report on reporting that “MANY of the twists and turns (were) handled by Stallone himself” (left), or that “MOST of the stunt riding … was done by” another stuntman stated on YouTube (Right).  All of which do not accurately reflect the full truth.


As normal everyday people that we are, watching our heroes on screen performing incredible feats of bravery, we are transfixed by their heroism and their abilities to overcome, whether outrunning bad cops, or jumping from amazing heights and distances, we are captivated by their vulnerabilities and perfectionism.  The reality is, as normal everyday people we are not and cannot be as perfect as these champions.  But to create entities like John Rambo, men with true abilities of skill and perfection are required.  Will Harper may be a normal everyday man in real life, but he is a man whose real-life abilities helped create skills of perfection within a superhero admired by millions.  Without people like Harper, the world would be a very different place.  Thank God this man has friends upstairs that have made him…Unstoppable.


First Blood is available on DVD, released through Live / Artisan (DVD), Paramount Pictures.



To find more content on Will Harper, please note the following:

Will Harper’s book of poetry entitled “His Poetry” is available at:  PDF File.



For More Information about the Rambo “First Blood” Tour:

Please contact:

Hope Visitor Centre & #MadeInHopeBC Gift Shop


Location: 919 Water Avenue, Hope, BC

Phone: 604-869-2021


Hours of Operation:

10am-4pm, 7 days a week


Rambo “First Blood” Tourism HQ | #FirstBloodHopeBC

The Hope Visitor Centre is the official headquarters for all things Rambo Tourism in Hope, BC.  Here is where visitors can pick up their guided maps, Rambo souvenirs, and get information from their knowledgeable staff.  Don't forget to stop by at The Mossy Stump Soap Company, Artisans Attic and Fudgery, and the Hope, Cascades & Canyons Visitor Center to purchase their very cool Rambo Souvenirs!  And while you’re there don’t miss Carver Ryan Villeirs wood carving statue of John Rambo!

Statue (1)USE.jpg
Statue (3)Use.jpg

         Ryan Villeirs  (Wood sculpture/Chainsaw carver)

        Villiers Wyld Wood (1 (780) 914-4082 / Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Please Note: 

Hope’s new First Blood museum is scheduled to be constructed next year in the fall of 2021 and their “40th anniversary” celebration of the film will be held in October of 2022. 




(Contributing assistance to this article:  Aaron Zimmerman)


Photos: Courtesy of Will Harper and Brian McKinney.  (Additional user uploaded photos and scans are used for informative, promotional, editorial, and educational purposes only.  All images, logos, and other respective materials are copyright by their respective owners.  No rights are given or implied in any way).

To make a comment regarding this article, please click "Here" (

bottom of page