Cheryl Wheeler Sander’s road to success as a professional stuntwoman and actress is paved with world titles, grit and determination! She is a 2nd degree Black Belt and a 3 time WKA Super Bantamweight World Champion in women’s kickboxing. She was inducted in the Black Belt Hall of Fame in the late 1990’s as “Woman of the Year”. Cheryl parlayed her notoriety in the martial arts and her kickboxing titles into a successful stunt and acting career, after being cast in a movie playing herself called The Night Stalker (1986) directed by long time stunt coordinator and 2nd unit director Max Kleven. She was cast to perform a big fight scene with the lead actor, Charles Napier. Cheryl ended up working with the stunt team on the show, learning the ropes about stunt fighting, and falling in love with the art and science of movie stunts!
An all around athlete in conjunction with her martial arts background, Cheryl also had extensive experience with horses, having grown up riding bareback on the beaches of Florida in her childhood. She took to stunts with a flourish and quickly made a name for herself in the industry as being rough, tough, and not afraid to hit the ground. Cheryl made an effort (Bob Bondurant, and many many hours of practice) to focus on making a name for herself behind the wheel of a car and quickly became known as a good and capable “wheel woman”. She began doing major car chases and big stunts doubling lead actresses for big name coordinators such as Charlie Pacerni, Mic Rogers, Brian Smrz, Steve Davidson, Glen Randall, Spiro Razatos, Ronnie Rondell, R.A. Rondell, Wally Crowder, Steve Boyum, and many more.
No stranger to adversity and challenge, Cheryl was performing a difficult stunt sequence on Back To The Future Part II (1989), doubling Biff’s girlfriend, actress Darlene Vogel. She was involved in the hover board chase scene involving Michael J. Fox and 3 other stunt people. The stunt finale involved the 4 hover board riders to spin out of control, swing between two giant pillars, and crash through a large glass courthouse window 22 feet up in the air. The special effects man, responsible for releasing all 4 stunt people off their cables once they crashed through the court house window (falling to a crash pad), made a mistake and did not see Cheryl slam into the left pillar from 50 feet back (rigging mistake by special effects team) which stopped her momentum, leaving her dangling 22 feet above the concrete. When the FX man released everyone, Cheryl dropped 22 feet to the concrete, crushing her face, jaw, brow bone, right hand and arm. The blow knocked her unconscious and stopped her heart. Medics on set revived her after approximately 90 seconds and rushed her to the hospital. She underwent a series of 5 reconstructive surgeries over a span of two long years trying to get back on her feet and back in the stunt industry. After two years of surgeries to her face, jaw and arm, physical therapy and grueling rehab work she eventually recovered fully and went back to work. Her first job back was on General Hospital, dangling 210 feet off the Marriott Hotel building at night, on cables… Talk about getting back in the saddle!!!
Cheryl’s successful stunt career has spanned decades. At 5’9″ tall, and 126 pounds she has doubled some of the top actresses of our generation, including Rene Russo, Sandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz, Charlize Theron, Jessica Alba, Bridget Fonda, Sharon Stone, Brooke Shields, Nicole Kidman, Uma Thurman, Kathleen Turner, Jennifer Garner, Shirley McClain, Penelope Ann Miller, Ellen Barkin, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jill Clayburgh, Miranda Richardson and many more. Cheryl currently lives in Asheville, NC, where she still works consistently on local film and TV productions. (Atlanta is close by). Cheryl recently completed filming of “Just Getting Started” (starring Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Rene Russo) in New Mexico, stunt doubling for long time actress friend Rene Russo. They also worked together on Rene’s latest Netflix movie Velvet Buzzsaw (2019), shot in Los Angeles and directed by Rene’s husband, Dan Gilroy. Velvet Buzzsaw was the latest in dozens of films she has stunt doubled for Rene’ on…
Their deep friendship started on Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) where she trained Rene’ for all her fight scenes as well as stunt doubled for her in the infamous “garage fight scene” where she took on 5 bad guys and kicked butt! “It was one of the coolest jobs ever”, Cheryl states, working with Rene’, Danny Glover, Mel Gibson and Joe Pesci, as well as being directed by the amazing Richard Donner… “Truly a ‘bucket list’ movie in my long career. Stunt doubling actress Bridget Fonda was another milestone in Point of No Return (1993). She and I worked together for almost 6 weeks training in martial arts, shooting guns, building endurance and getting in shape before we started shooting principal photography. John Badham was another ‘bucket list’ director that I was so honored to work with. Such a great talent and truly a kind man”.
Cheryl was awarded “The Helen Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award” at the prestigious 2014 Action-Icon Awards in Los Angeles for her “pioneering work in the stunt industry”. She was so grateful and proud to be honored for her life’s work.
She was also a recipient of the 2000 Taurus World Stunt Award for Best Stunt Sequence for her work on Charlie’s Angels (2000). The Taurus Stunt Award is the stunt persons equivalent of the Oscars for actors!
Cheryl gives her successful stunt career full credit in recently making the leap from stunt professional to movie producer, with the completion of principal photography of her and co-producer James Wilson’s first feature film, The Martial Arts Kid (2015), a family movie with good morals and a sound message that she is proud of and hit theaters across the US in 2015. Cheryl stated that “It was so much fun to be on the other side of the camera and be able to put stunt people to work on our film. The legendary and uber-talented stunt coordinator James Lew was in charge of all our stunts and fights.” She and co-producer James Wilson recently completed their 2nd film together, Paying Mr. McGetty (2018), which has already garnished film festival awards. She was also involved (executive producer) in a recent documentary called Holy Hell (2016) that premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival last February 2018 to critical acclaim. Holy Hell (2016) was recently nominated for an Emmy through CNN documentaries. She shares on-screen credit with executive producer and actor Jared Leto. Holy Hell (2016) can be viewed on Netflix as well as iTunes.
At 50 plus, Cheryl has no intention of riding off in to the sunset just yet!! She is still stunting part time and hopes to put many more stunt people to work in the future with her delving into the producing and executive producing side of the movie industry… “I love stunts, stunt people, and the stunt family as a whole. They are good men and women that love and live life to the fullest… We tried to cast as many stunt people as we could for actual roles in The Martial Arts Kid (2015) in addition to actual hiring them on for stunts. I hope to work in the industry for many more years to come both as a stuntwoman and a producer”…
Featured Films and Television
- Doubled Rene Russo in Thor, Showtime, Big Trouble, Lethal Weapon 3 and 4, Ransom, Rocky and Bullwinkle
- Doubled Libby Day in Dark Places
- Performed stunts on Transformers: Age of Extinction
- Performed stunts on Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World
- Doubled Markorie in Bernie
- Doubled Cameron Diaz (2nd Unit) in Knight and Day
- Basic doubled Connie Neilson in Gladiator
- Doubled Famke Janssen in I Spy
- Performed stunts on Spiderman
- Doubled Jessica Alba (driving) in Spy Kids 4
- Doubled Shirley McLaine in Bernie
- Performed stunts on Ocean’s Eleven
- Doubled Kelly Lynch (one of several doubles) in Charlie’s Angels
- Doubled Uma Thurman in Batman & Robin
- Doubled Natasha Hensdridge (one of several doubles) in Ghosts of Mars
- Doubled Jennifer Garner in multiple episodes of Alias
- Doubled Sarah Chalke on Scrubs
- Doubled Christa Miller on The Drew Carey Show
- Doubled Jenna Elfman on Dharma & Greg
- Doubled Bridget Fonda in Point of No Return and The Break Up
- Doubled Linda Hoffman in Face Off
- Doubled Kathleen Turner in Undercover Blues, Serial Mom, House of Cards, Baby Geniuses and Warshawski
- Doubled Sandra Bullock in Demolition Man
It is with a very broken heart that we share that Cheryl Wheeler Sanders was killed by gun fire on February 12, 2020. She was a dear friend and a wonderful person who often dealt with more in life than anyone should have to deal with.
Live Differently . . .
My heart is so broken. My friend, Cheryl Wheeler Sanders has died. She had such a wonderful heart and suffered because of it. Life took such a toll on my friend, who was truly gifted and loved. Circumstances, which none of us may ever understand, led to her death, and I know in my heart that she had her reasons and that she never planned to have things work out the way they did. Desperate to make things fair and right, decisions were made that led to awful circumstances. None of this changes my love for my friend. Nothing changes my deep sadness and longing to change the ending to what happened. Nothing changes that I want to pick up the phone this Valentine’s Day and wish my friend the best in life.
I want to ask a favor of all of you in the martial arts community, all of you in the stunt community, and all of you in the entertainment industry. Let’s keep our eyes and hearts open to the needs of those around us. Let’s try to be better friends. Let’s call each other more often, and listen to one another’s hearts in a deeper way. Let’s cry together more honestly and ask for help when we need it. Let’s let go of anything in our lives, or hearts, that keeps us from being the special people this world needs. Let’s use the talents we have to make a bigger difference in the lives of those around us. Let’s love more. Cheryl would want that. Dana Stamos
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