Evil Knievel passed away Friday, November 30th, 2007. He was 69 years old. News reports say Knievel had been struggling for years with diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable lung condition. In 1999 he underwent a liver transplant after nearly dying of hepatitis C, which he believed he contracted through one of the many blood transfusions from his wrecks.
What a character. Police dubbed him "Evil Knievel" as a child when he was caught stealing hubcaps. Among his many achievements in life, he also was a star athlete in High School, volunteered to be an army paratrooper in the 1950s (making 30 jumps), and played hockey with the Charlotte Clippers. But it was as a motorcycle daredevil that Evel would rise to fame, capturing the world's attention and becoming one of the biggest attractions of the 1970s. His son Robbie later followed in his footsteps, becoming a stunt cyclist himself.
Evel starred in a 1977 movie called Viva Knievel!, in which he played himself - it also starred Laura Hutton and Leslie Nielson. There was also a 1971 film starring George Hamilton, as well as a made for TV film in 2004, and a failed TV pilot starring Sam Elliott.
Is there any American male who grew up in the 1970s who wasn't inspired by the exploits of Evel? I remember setting up wooden ramps to jump on my bicycle, placing various objects below in my own death defying stunt. I also remember, in true Knievel fashion, wrecking and lying on the ground afterwards staring up at the sky!
I was listening to sports talk on my car radio last night and they had a segment called 4 Questions. Of the 4, only two were sports related - and one of them was, "What was your favorite toy as a kid?"
I thought about it, and my favorite toy growing up was my Evel Knievel stunt cycle. I used to play with that thing for hours in my driveway, cranking the handle furiously to watch Evel ride again and again. I have a scar to prove it, on the knuckle of the first finger of my right hand, where it would scrape the ground as I cranked the launcher, and although it was bloody and hurting I kept on cranking!
Evel definitely wasn't a saint. He was an alcoholic, got caught soliciting an undercover police officer for sex, left his wife of 38 years for a younger woman, was later charged with domestic violence toward this younger woman (whom he did eventually marry), and most recently was involved in a lawsuit with rap artist Kanye West over West's usage of Evel's image in a rap video. Life is so much simpler as a kid - you don't know the details of your heroes, you simply see them as the image they portray. Sometimes it's sad to learn the real person behind the facade. That is the most disappointing thing I've encountered since I started this horror host business.
Below is video footage of two of Evel's most spectacular jumps - look at the size of the ramp in this first one!! Seeing this as an adult it's a wonder he wasn't paralyzed - check out the crew as they get to him. The first thing they do is start yanking on his head and flip him over on his back. Amazing. The second clip is the famous Ceaser's Palace jump. I remember watching this one live on TV. Incredible crash - He was the real life Ghost Rider, suffering multiple crashes that should have killed him. Ride on, Evel. Ride on!