Person of the Week: Jeannie Epper

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Stuntmen and stuntwomen put themselves in harm's way to thrill audiences at the movies, but these stand-ins for the stars are not recognized by the Academy Awards.

They have their own version of the Oscars -- the Taurus World Stunt Awards, set for May 20 in Hollywood, Calif., and they'll honor 66-year-old stuntwoman Jeannie Epper with a lifetime achievement award. She'll be the first female to take that honor.

Among her performances, she hurtled down a 200-foot cliff for Kathleen Turner in "Romancing the Stone."

"I went headfirst down. … I had a mouthful of rocks and dirt," Epper said.

She started doing stunts at age 9, and learned from her father, who stood in for Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan.

"My dad taught us how to tuck and roll and fall, and stuff like that," Epper said.

She joked that she was practically born with stunt pads "attached to the umbilical cord."

"I actually think that everybody in Hollywood has at one time or another thought that the Eppers were destined and born to be stunt performers. And we were probably the only family that were actually born with stunt pads," Epper said.

Still, she had to develop her own style. "Everything we do is unique. We're not like any other athletes in the world," she said. "We work with a different set of people every movie, different cars, different cameras … So, we always have to adjust to the situation."

From 'Wonder Woman' to 'Spider-Man'

Eppers' credits include a ride with Jack Nicholson in "Terms of Endearment" and an appearance in "Spider-Man" as she found her spot in a man's business.

In addition to the stunts, she also had to hone her acting skills. She said while sitting in for Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, she had to relearn some basic skills.

"She just runs differently. Her arms kinda flail up a little bit," Epper said. "I had to train myself to run like a girl."

While Epper has the guts to pull off dangerous stunts, she also has a heart. Seven years ago, her friend, actor Ken Howard, was in need of a kidney, and she took the job of providing one, despite a warning from a doctor that it would put an end to her career.

"I actually was told by the doctor that I would never be able to do stunts again if I decided to donate my kidney," Epper said.

She still volunteered for the donation. "I think that's just the way stuntwomen think," Howard explained. "She said, 'Well, I'll just step in and do the stunt for you.'"

"That's probably the biggest stunt I've ever done," Epper said. "And I'm back working and he's back working."

And you might even see her at the movies this weekend, as a figure skating judge who sets the scenery on fire in the Will Ferrell comedy "Blades of Glory."

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