Evel Knievel: Wikis


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Evel Knievel

Evel Knievel in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida,
during the 1970s.
Born Robert Craig Knievel
October 17, 1938(1938-10-17)
Butte, Montana
Died November 30, 2007 (aged 69)
Clearwater, Florida
Cause of death Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis
Resting place Butte, Montana
Nationality American
Occupation Stunt performer
Known for Motorcycle stunts
Spouse(s) Linda Joan Bork (1959–1997)
Krystal Kennedy (1999–2001)
Children Kelly, Tracey, Alicia, Robbie
Parents Robert Edward Knievel, Ann Kehoe

Robert Craig Knievel (October 17, 1938 – November 30, 2007), better known as Evel Knievel (pronounced /ˈiːvəl kɨˈniːvəl/;)[1], was an American motorcycle daredevil and entertainer famous in the United States and elsewhere between the late 1960s and early 1980s. Knievel's nationally televised motorcycle jumps, including his 1974 attempt to jump Snake River Canyon at Twin Falls, Idaho, represent four of the twenty most-watched ABC's Wide World of Sports events to date. His achievements and failures, including his record 37 broken bones, earned him several entries in the Guinness Book of World Records.[2]

His son Robbie Knievel is also an accomplished motorcycle daredevil.


Early life

Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel was born in Butte, Montana, in 1938, the first of two children born to Robert E. and Ann Kehoe "Zippy" Knievel. His surname is of German origin; his great-great-grandparents on his father's side emigrated to the United States from Germany.[3] Robert and Ann divorced in 1940, after the birth of their second child, Nic. Both parents decided to leave Butte. Younger Robert was raised by paternal grandparents, Ignatius and Emma Knievel. At the age of eight, he attended a Joie Chitwood Auto Daredevil Show, to which he gave credit for his later career choice to become a motorcycle daredevil.[4]p. 38

Knievel ended high school after his sophomore year and got a job in the copper mines with the Anaconda Mining Company as a diamond drill operator. He was then promoted to surface duty where he drove a large earth mover. Knievel was dismissed when he made the earth mover do a motorcycle-type wheelie[5] and drove it into Butte's main power line. The incident left the city without electricity for several hours. Idle, Knievel began to find himself in more and more trouble around Butte. After a police chase in 1956 in which he crashed his motorcycle, Knievel was taken to jail on a charge of reckless driving. When the night jailer came around to check the roll, he noted Robert Knievel in one cell and William Knofel in the other. Knofel was well known as "Awful Knofel" ("awful" rhyming with "Knofel") so Knievel began to be referred to as Evel Knievel ("Evel" rhyming with "Knievel"). He chose this misspelling because of his last name and because he didn't want to be considered "evil".

Always looking for new thrills and challenges, Knievel participated in local professional rodeos and ski jumping events, including winning the Northern Rocky Mountain Ski Association Class A Men's ski jumping championship in 1959. During the late 1950s, Knievel joined the United States Army. His athletic ability allowed him to join the track team where he was a pole vaulter. After his army stint, Knievel returned to Butte where he met and married his first wife, Linda Joan Bork.

Shortly after getting married, Knievel started the Butte Bombers, a semi-pro hockey team.[4]p. 21 To help promote his team and earn some money, he convinced the 1960 Olympic Czechoslovakian hockey team to play the Butte Bombers in a warm-up game to the Olympics. Knievel was ejected from the game minutes into the third period and left the stadium. When the Czechoslovakian officials went to the box office to collect the expense money the team was promised, workers discovered the game receipts had been stolen. The United States Olympic Committee wound up paying the Czechoslovakian team's expenses to avoid an international incident.[4]p. 21-22 Evel Knievel also played with the Charlotte Checkers of the Eastern Hockey League.[6]

After the birth of his first son, Kelly, Knievel realized that he needed to come up with a new way to support his family financially. Using the hunting and fishing skills his grandfather had taught him, Knievel started the Sur-Kill Guide Service. He guaranteed that if a hunter employed his service and paid his fee, they would get the big game animal they wanted or he would refund their money. Business was very good until game wardens realized that Knievel was taking his clients into Yellowstone National Park to find prey. The Park Service ordered Knievel to cease and desist this poaching.

In response Knievel, who was learning about the culling of elk in Yellowstone, decided to hitchhike from Butte to Washington, D.C. in December 1961 to raise awareness and to have the elk relocated to areas where hunting was permitted. After his conspicuous trek (he hitchhiked with a 54-inch wide rack of elk antlers and a petition with 3,000 signatures), he presented his case to Representative Arnold Olsen, Senator Mike Mansfield and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. As a result of his efforts, the culling was stopped, and the animals have since been regularly captured and relocated to areas of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.[7]

After returning home from Washington, Knievel decided to stop committing crime. He joined the motocross circuit and had moderate success, but he still couldn't make enough money to support his family. During 1962, Knievel broke his collarbone and shoulder in a motocross accident. The doctors said he couldn't race for at least six months. To help support his family, he switched careers and sold insurance for the Combined Insurance Company of America, working for W. Clement Stone. Stone suggested that Knievel read Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude, a book that Stone wrote with Napoleon Hill. Knievel credited much of his success to Stone and his book.

Knievel was successful as an insurance salesman (even selling insurance policies to several institutionalized mental patients) and wanted recognition for his efforts. When the company refused to promote him to vice-president after a few months on the job he quit. Wanting a new start away from Butte, Knievel moved his family to Moses Lake, Washington. There, he opened a Honda motorcycle dealership and promoted motocross racing. During the early 1960s, it was difficult to promote Japanese imports. People still considered them inferior to American built motorcycles, and there was lingering resentment from World War II, which had ended less than 20 years earlier. Once, Knievel offered a $100 discount to anybody who could beat him at arm wrestling. Despite his best efforts the store eventually closed.

After the closure of the Moses Lake Honda dealership, Evel went to work for Don Pomeroy at his motorcycle shop in Sunnyside, Washington. It is here where Jim Pomeroy, a well known motocross racer taught Knievel how to do a "wheelie" and ride while standing on the seat of the bike.


While trying to support his family, Knievel recalled the Joie Chitwood show he saw as a boy and decided that he could do something similar using a motorcycle. Promoting the show himself, Knievel rented the venue, wrote the press releases, set up the show, sold the tickets and served as his own master of ceremonies. After enticing the small crowd with a few wheelies, he proceeded to jump a twenty-foot-long box of rattlesnakes and two mountain lions. Despite landing short and having his back wheel hit the box containing the rattlesnakes, Knievel managed to land safely.

Knievel realized to make any amount of real money he would need to hire more performers, stunt coordinators and other personnel so that he could concentrate on the jumps. With little money, he went looking for a sponsor and found one in Bob Blair, of the Berliner Motor Corporation, a distributor for Norton Motorcycles. Blair offered to provide the needed motorcycles, but he wanted the name changed from the Bobby Knievel and His Motorcycle Daredevils Thrill Show to Evil Knievel and His Motorcycle Daredevils. Knievel didn't want his image to be that of a Hells Angels rider, so he convinced Blair to allow him to use Evel instead of Evil.

The debut of Knievel and his daredevils was on January 3, 1966, at the National Date Festival in Indio, California. The show was a huge success. Knievel received several offers to host the show after their first performance. The second booking was in Hemet, California, but was canceled due to rain. The next performance was on February 10, in Barstow, California. During the performance, Knievel attempted a new stunt where he would jump, spread eagle, over a speeding motorcycle. Knievel jumped too late and the motorcycle hit him in the groin, tossing him fifteen feet into the air. He was placed in the hospital as a result of his injuries. When released, he returned to Barstow to finish the performance he had started almost a month earlier.

Knievel's daredevil show broke up after the Barstow performance because injuries prevented him from performing. After recovering, Knievel started traveling from small town to small town as a solo act. To get ahead of other motorcycle stunt people who were jumping animals or pools of water, Knievel started jumping cars. He began adding more and more cars to his jumps when he would return to the same venue to get people to come out and see him again. Knievel hadn't had a serious injury since the Barstow performance, but on June 19 in Missoula, Montana, he attempted to jump twelve cars and a cargo van. The distance he had for takeoff didn't allow him to get up enough speed. His back wheel hit the top of the van while his front wheel hit the top of the landing ramp. Knievel ended up with a severely broken arm and several broken ribs. The crash and subsequent stay in the hospital were a publicity windfall.

With each successful jump, the public wanted him to jump one more car. On May 30, 1967, Knievel successfully cleared sixteen cars in Gardena, California. Then he attempted the same jump on July 28, 1967, in Graham, Washington, where he had his next serious crash. Landing his cycle on a panel truck that was the last vehicle, Knievel was thrown from his bike. This time he suffered a serious concussion. After a month, he recovered and returned to Graham on August 18 to finish the show; but the result was the same, only this time the injuries were more serious. Again coming up short, Knievel crashed, breaking his left wrist, right knee and two ribs.

Knievel finally received some national exposure when actor Joey Bishop had him on as a guest of The Joey Bishop Show. All the attention not only brought larger paydays, but also female admirers.

Caesars Palace

While in Las Vegas, to watch Dick Tiger successfully defend his WBA and WBC light heavyweight titles at the Las Vegas Convention Center on November 17, 1967, Knievel first saw the fountains at Caesars Palace and decided to jump them. To get an audience with the casino's CEO Jay Sarno, Knievel created a fictitious corporation called Evel Knievel Enterprises and three fictitious lawyers to make phone calls to Sarno. Knievel also placed phone calls to Sarno claiming to be from ABC-TV and Sports Illustrated inquiring about the jump. Sarno finally agreed to meet Knievel and the deal was set for Knievel to jump the fountains on December 31, 1967. After the deal was set, Knievel tried to get ABC to air the event live on Wide World of Sports. ABC declined, but said that if Knievel had the jump filmed and it was as spectacular as he said it would be, they would consider using it later.

Knievel used his own money to have actor/director John Derek produce a film of the Caesars' jump. To keep costs low, Derek used his then-wife Linda Evans as one of the camera operators. It was Evans who filmed Knievel's famous landing. On the morning of the jump, Knievel stopped in the casino and placed his last 100 dollars on the blackjack table (which he lost), stopped by the bar and had a shot of Wild Turkey and then headed outside where he was joined by several members of the Caesars staff, as well as two showgirls. After doing his normal pre-jump show and a few warm up approaches, Knievel began his real approach. When he hit the takeoff ramp, he felt the motorcycle unexpectedly decelerate. The sudden loss of power on the takeoff caused Knievel to come up short and land on the safety ramp which was supported by a van. This caused the handlebars to be ripped out of his hands as he tumbled over them onto the pavement where he skidded into the Dunes parking lot. As a result of the crash, Knievel suffered a crushed pelvis and femur, fractures to his hip, wrist and both ankles and a concussion that kept him in a coma for 29 days.[8]

Before the Caesars' jump Knievel asked his friend Matt Tonning, a Combined Insurance sales agent, to sell him ten accident policies. Combined's underwriting policies allowed for only one of these policies be written, since the policy covered any accident and was non-cancelable for the life of the insured. Tonning agreed and was fired by Combined when Knievel filed the claims on all ten. Upon hearing that Tonning had been fired Knievel contacted Combined's Vice President Matt Walsh. He agreed to return nine of the policies and be paid full benefits on only one, if Combined allowed Tonning to return to work. Walsh agreed and Tonning was reinstated.

After his crash and recovery Knievel was more famous than ever. ABC-TV bought the rights to the film of the jump paying far more than they originally would have had they televised the original jump live. Ironically, when Knievel finally achieved the fame and possible fortune that he always wanted, his doctors were telling him that he might never walk without the aid of crutches, let alone ride and jump motorcycles.


To keep his name in the news, Knievel started describing his biggest stunt ever, a motorcycle jump across the Grand Canyon. Just five months after his near fatal crash, Knievel performed another jump. On May 25, 1968, in Scottsdale, Arizona, Knievel crashed while attempting to jump fifteen Ford Mustangs. Knievel ended up breaking his right leg and foot as a result of the crash.

On August 3, 1968, Knievel returned to jumping, making more money than ever before. He was earning approximately $25,000 per performance, and he was making successful jumps almost weekly until October 13, in Carson City, Nevada. While trying to stick the landing, he lost control of the bike and crashed again, breaking his hip once more.

By 1971, Knievel realized that the United States government would never allow him to jump the Grand Canyon. To keep his fans interested, Knievel considered several other stunts that might match the publicity that would have been generated by jumping the canyon; ideas included: jumping across the Mississippi River, jumping from one skyscraper to another in New York City and jumping over 13 cars inside the Houston Astrodome. While flying back to Butte from a performance tour, Knievel looked out the window and saw Snake River Canyon. After finding a location near Twin Falls, Idaho, that was both wide enough, deep enough and on private property, Knievel leased 300 acres (1.2 km2) for $35,000 to stage his jump. He set the date for Labor Day (September 4), 1972.

On January 7 and January 8, 1971, Knievel set the record by selling over 100,000 tickets to back-to-back performances at the Houston Astrodome. On February 28, he set a new world record by jumping 19 cars with his Harley-Davidson XR-750 in Ontario, California. The 19 car jump was also filmed for the movie, Evel Knievel. Knievel held the record for 27 years until Bubba Blackwell jumped 20 cars in 1998 with an XR-750.[9]

On May 10, Knievel crashed while attempting to jump 13 Pepsi delivery trucks. His approach was complicated by the fact that he had to start on pavement, cut across grass, and then return to pavement. His lack of speed caused the motorcycle to come down front wheel first. He managed to hold on until the cycle hit the base of the ramp. After being thrown off he skidded for 50 feet (15 m). Knievel broke his collarbone, suffered a compound fracture of his right arm and broke both legs.

On March 3, 1972, at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California, after making a successful jump, he tried to come to a quick stop because of a short landing area. Knievel suffered a broken back and a concussion after getting thrown off and run over by his motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson. Knievel returned to jumping in November, 1973, where he successfully jumped over 50 stacked cars at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.[10] For 35 years, Knievel held the record for successfully jumping the most stacked cars on a Harley-Davidson XR-750 (the record was broken in October 2008[citation needed]). His historic XR-750 is now part of the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Made of steel, aluminum and fiberglass, the customized motorcycle weighs about 300 pounds.[11]

Snake River Canyon

ABC Sports was unwilling to pay the price Knievel wanted for the Snake River Canyon jump, so he ended up hiring Bob Arum's company, Top Rank Productions, to put the event on closed circuit television and broadcast to movie theaters. Then WWF Promoter Vince McMahon was later said to be a silent promoter of this event. Arum partnered with Invest West Sports, Shelly Saltman's company, to secure from Invest West Sports two things: 1.) the necessary financing for the jump and 2.) the services of Sheldon Saltman, long recognized as one of America's premier public relations and promotion men, to do publicity so that Knievel could concentrate on his jumps. Knievel then hired subcontractor and aeronautical engineer Doug Malewicki to build him a rocket-powered cycle that he could use to jump across the Snake River, to be called the X-1 Skycycle. Doug's creation was powered by a steam engine built by former Aerojet engineer Robert Truax. On April 15, 1972 the X-1 was launched to test the feasibility of the launching ramp. The decision was then made to have Truax build the Skycycle X-2 and have it take off and fly more like a rocket than a motorcycle.

The launch at Snake River Canyon (42°35′50″N 114°25′23″W / 42.59713°N 114.42292°W / 42.59713; -114.42292) was on September 8, 1974, at 3:36 p.m. MDT. The steam that powered the engine was superheated to a temperature of 500 °F (260 °C). Upon take-off, the drogue parachute accidentally deployed when the bolts holding the cover for the chute stripped out with the force of the blast. The deployed chute caused enough drag that even though the skycycle made it all the way across the canyon to the north rim, the prevailing winds caused it to drift back south, into the canyon. By the time it hit the bottom of the canyon, it landed only a few feet from the water on the same side of the canyon it had been launched from. If he had landed in the water, Knievel would have drowned due to a jumpsuit/harness malfunction which kept him strapped in the vehicle. Knievel survived the jump with only minor injuries.

Later daredevil career

Wembley jump

After the Snake River jump, Knievel returned to motorcycle jumping with ABC Wide World of Sports televising several jumps. On May 26, 1975, in front of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London,[12] Knievel crashed while trying to land a jump over thirteen redundant single-deck AEC Merlin buses (the term "London Buses" used in earlier publicity had led to the belief that the attempt was to be made over the higher and more traditional Routemaster double-deck type). After the crash, despite breaking his pelvis, Knievel addressed the audience and announced his retirement. Near shock and not yielding to Frank Gifford's (of ABC Wide World of Sports) plea to use a stretcher, Knievel walked off the Wembley field stating, "I came in walking, I went out walking!"[13]

Kings Island jump

After recuperating, Knievel decided that he had spoken too soon, and that he would continue jumping. On October 25, 1975, Knievel successfully jumped fourteen Greyhound buses at the Kings Island theme park in Ohio. Although Knievel landed on the 14th bus, his landing was successful and he held the record for jumping the most buses on a Harley-Davidson for 24 years (until broken by Bubba Blackwell in late 1999). The Kings Island event scored the highest viewer ratings in the history of ABC's Wide World of Sports and would serve as Knievel's longest successful jump at 133 feet (although the Caesars Palace jump was longer in length, it ended in a crash). After the Kings Island jump, Knievel again announced his retirement.

Again, his retirement was short lived and Knievel continued to jump. However, after the lengthy Kings Island jump, Knievel limited the remainder of his career jumps to shorter and more attainable lengths. Evel jumped on October 31, 1976, at the Seattle Kingdome. He only jumped seven Greyhound Buses but it was a success. Despite the crowd's pleasure, Knievel felt that it was not his best jump, and apologized to the crowd.

Shark jump

In the winter of 1976, Knievel was scheduled for a major jump in Chicago, Illinois. The jump was inspired by the film, Jaws. Knievel was scheduled to jump a tank full of live sharks and would be televised live nationally. However, during his rehearsal, Knievel lost control of the motorcycle and crashed into a cameraman. Although Knievel broke his arms, he was more distraught over a permanent injury his accident caused to the cameraman (who lost his eye). The footage of this crash was so upsetting to Knievel, that he did not show the clip for 19 years until the documentary, Absolute Evel: The Evel Knievel Story.

After the failed shark jump, Knievel retired from major performances and limited his appearances to smaller venues to help launch the career of his son, Robbie Knievel. His last stunt show, which did not include a jump, took place in March 1980 in Puerto Rico. However, Knievel would officially finish his career as a daredevil as a touring "companion" of his son, Robbie, limiting his performance to speaking only, rather than stunt riding.[4] His last appearance with Robbie (on tour) was in March 1981 in Hollywood, Florida.

The Last Gladiator

The Last Gladiator is an honorific title or nickname for Evel Knievel. The term Last Gladiator was coined and attributed to Knievel circa 1971. The term refers to the Roman Gladiator, who entered an arena to fight numerous foes which he may succumb death to with skill and bravery.

The term was made popular in the 1971 eponymous movie starring George Hamilton. In the movie, Hamilton (as Knievel) states, "I am the last gladiator in the new Rome. I go into the arena and I compete against destruction and I win. And next week, I go out there and I do it again."

Evel Knievel's 1988 self-produced documentary was entitled, "Last of the Gladiators".


Knievel briefly used a Honda 350cc motorcycle, using it to jump a crate of rattlesnakes and two mountain lions, which was his first known jump. Knievel then used a Norton Motorcycle Company 750cc. He used the Norton for only one year during 1966. Between 1967 and 1968, Knievel jumped using the Triumph Bonneville T120 (with a 650cc engine). Knievel used the Triumph at the Caesars Palace crash on New Year's Eve 1967. When Knievel returned to jumping after the crash, he used Triumph for the remainder of 1968.

Between December 1969 and April 1970, Knievel used the Laverda American Eagle 750cc motorcycle. On December 12, 1970, Knievel would switch to the Harley-Davidson XR-750, the motorcycle in which he is best known for jumping. Knievel would use the XR-750 in association with Harley-Davidson until 1977. However, after his 1977 conviction for the assault of Shelly Saltman, Harley-Davidson withdrew their sponsorship of Knievel.

On September 8, 1974, Knievel attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon on a rocket propelled motorcycle designed by former NASA engineer Robert Truax dubbed the Skycycle X-2. The State of Idaho registered the X-2 as an airplane rather than a motorcycle.

At the tail end of his career, while helping launch the career of his son, Robbie Knievel, Knievel returned to the Triumph T120. However, he only performed wheelies and did not jump after retiring the XR-750.[4]

In 1997, Knievel signed with the California Motorcycle Company to release a limited Evel Knievel Motorcycle. However, the motorcycle was not built to jump, but was rather a V-twin cruiser motorcycle intended to compete with Harley-Davidson street bikes. Knievel promoted the motorcycle at his various public appearances. After the company closed in 2003, Knievel returned to riding a modern street Harley-Davidson motorcycles at his public appearances.

Evel's son, Robbie Knievel, is currently selling limited edition motorcycles from his company, Knievel Motorcycles Manufacturing Inc.[14] Although two of the motorcycles refer to Evel (the Legend Series Evel Commemorative and the Snake River Canyon motorcycle), Evel did not ride Robbie's bikes.

Core values

One of Evel's qualities was that he had great pride in his core values. Throughout his career (and later life), he would repeatedly talk about the importance of "keeping his word".[15] He stated that although he knew he may not successfully make a jump or even survive the canyon jump, he followed through with each stunt because he gave his word that he would. Prior to the canyon jump, Knievel stated, "If someone says to you, 'that guy should have never jumped the canyon. You knew if he did, that he'd lose his life and that he was crazy.' Do me a favor. Tell him that you saw me here and regardless of what I was, that you knew me, and that I kept my word."

In the documentary Last of the Gladiators, Knievel discussed the crash of a 1970 Pepsi-Cola sponsored jump in Yakima, Washington. Knievel knew the jump was questionable, but stated, I went ahead and did it anyway. When you give your word to somebody that you're going to do something, you've gotta do it. In the 1971 biopic, George Hamilton (as Evel) emphasizes in the opening monologue that a man does not go back on his word.

Knievel would regularly share his anti-drug message, as it was another one of his core values.[16] Knievel would preach an anti-drug message to children and adults before each of his stunts. One organization that Knievel regularly slammed for being drug dealers was the Hells Angels.[4] A near-riot erupted on March 3, 1971, at the Cow Palace when a tire-iron (or coke can according to the Hells Angels) was thrown at Knievel during his stunt show, and Knievel and a majority of the spectators fought back, sending three of the fifteen Hells Angels to the hospital. The plot to his only motion picture as an actor, Viva Knievel, centers around Evel foiling the attempts of drug lords smuggling narcotics into America from Mexico.


Knievel was married twice. He and his first wife, Linda, were legally married for 38 years. During their marriage, the couple had four children: 2 boys and 2 girls (oldest child Kelly and second-born Robbie are the boys and Tracey and youngest child Alicia are the girls). Throughout Kelly's and Robbie's adolescence, the boys performed at Knievel's stunt shows. Robbie Knievel continued into adulthood to perform as a professional motorcycle daredevil. Knievel's courtship and marriage to Linda was the theme of the 1971 George Hamilton movie, Evel Knievel. Linda and Evel were legally divorced in 1997.

In 1999, Knievel remarried to his girlfriend, Krystal Kennedy, whom he began dating in 1992.[17] The marriage was held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The couple were married for two years, divorcing in 2001. Following the divorce, Krystal Knievel was granted a restraining order against him.[18] However, Krystal and Evel would work out their differences and remain close friends and live together until Knievel's death.[19] According to the investment magazine, Registered Rep., Knievel left his entire estate to Krystal.[20]

Marketing the image

Knievel sought to make more money off of his image. He was no longer satisfied with just receiving free motorcycles to jump with. Knievel wanted to be paid to use and promote a company's brand of motorcycles. After Triumph, the motorcycle company he had been jumping with, refused to meet his demands, Knievel started to propose the idea to other manufacturers. American Eagle Motorcycles was the first company to sign Knievel to an endorsement deal. At approximately the same time, Fanfare Films started production of Evel Knievel, a 1971 movie starring George Hamilton as Knievel. There has been two other movies made about Evel: A television pilot made in 1974 starring Sam Elliott, and made-for-TV film in 2004 starring George Eads.

Knievel kept up his pursuit of getting the United States government to allow him to jump the Grand Canyon. To push his case, he hired famed San Francisco defense attorney Melvin Belli to fight the legal battle in obtaining government permission. ABC's Wide World of Sports started showing Knievel's jumps on television regularly. His popularity, especially with young boys, was ever increasing. He became a hero to a generation of young boys, many of whom were injured trying to imitate his stunts. A. J. Foyt made Knievel part of his pit crew for the Indianapolis 500 in 1970. Evel Knievel's huge fame caused him to start traveling with a bodyguard, Boots Curtis. Curtis became a long time friend to Knievel.

Later in the decade, the merchandising of the Knievel image reached additional media. Ideal Toys released a bendable Knievel action figure in 1972; along with a host of accessories, there was also a female counterpart available—Derry Daring.[21] In 1977, Bally marketed its Knievel pinball machine as the "first fully electronic commercial game"; it has elsewhere been described as one of the "last of the classic pre-digital games."[22] (Both electromechanical and solid state versions were produced. The electromechanical version is extremely rare, with only 155 made). [1]

Knievel made several television appearances, including a guest spot on The Bionic Woman where he played himself. He was a frequent guest on talk shows such as Dinah! and Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. On January 31, 1977, during a dress rehearsal for a CBS special on live daredevil stunts at the Chicago International Amphitheatre, Knievel crashed, breaking both arms and his collarbone. In the process, a misplaced cameraman was injured, losing an eye. In June 1977, Warner Bros. released Viva Knievel!, a movie starring Knievel as himself and co-starring Lauren Hutton, Gene Kelly and Red Buttons. The movie was a box office smash.

Assault charges

While Knievel was healing from his latest round of injuries, the book Evel Knievel on Tour was released. Authored by Knievel's promoter for the Snake River Canyon jump, Shelly Saltman, the book painted an unflattering picture of Knievel's character, alleging that he abused his wife and kids and he used drugs. Knievel, with both arms still in casts, flew to California to confront Saltman, a VP at 20th Century Fox. Outside the studio commissary, one of Knievel's friends grabbed Saltman and held him, while Knievel attacked him with an aluminum baseball bat, declaring, "I'm going to kill you!" According to a witness to the attack, Knievel struck repeated blows at Saltman's head, with Saltman blocking the blows with his left arm. Saltman's arm and wrist were shattered in several places before he fell to the ground unconscious. It took numerous surgeries and permanent metal plates in his arm to eventually give Saltman back the use of his arm. Sheldon Saltman's book was pulled from the shelves by the publisher after Knievel threatened to sue. Saltman later produced documents in both criminal and civil court that proved that, although Knievel claimed to have been insulted by statements in Saltman's book, he and his lawyers had actually been given editorial access to the book and had approved and signed off on every word prior to its publication. On October 14, 1977, Knievel pleaded guilty to battery and was sentenced to three years probation and six months in county jail, during which he publicly flaunted his brief incarceration for the press.

Post-daredevil years

After the assault of Saltman and time served in jail, Knievel lost most marketing endorsements and deals, including Harley-Davidson and Ideal Toys. With no income from jumping or sponsorship, Knievel was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy. In 1981, Saltman was awarded a $13 million judgment against Knievel in a civil trial, but never received money from Knievel or Knievel's estate.

During the 1980s, Knievel would drive around the country in a recreational vehicle, selling works of art allegedly painted by him.[4] After several years of obscurity, Knievel made a significant marketing comeback in the 1990s, representing Maxim Casino, Little Caesar's, Harley-Davidson, and other firms.

In 1993, Evel Knievel was diagnosed with hepatitis C, apparently contracted during one of his many reconstructive surgeries. Knievel needed a liver transplant in 1999 as a result of the condition.

In 1999, Knievel was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

In 1999, Knievel celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Snake River Canyon jump at the Twin Falls mall. His memorabilia was then stored at Kent Knigge's farm in Filer, Idaho, seven miles west of Twin Falls.

On November 19, 1999, on a special platform built on the fountains at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip near Las Vegas, Nevada (site of Evel's jump New Year's Eve 1967), Evel married long time girlfriend, 30-year-old Krystal Kennedy of Clearwater, Florida. Long-time friend Engelbert Humperdinck sent a recorded tribute to the couple. They were divorced in 2001 but remained together until his death.

On October 9, 2005, Knievel promoted his last public "motorcycle ride" at the Milwaukee Harley-Davidson dealership. The ride was to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. Although he was originally scheduled to lead a benefit ride through Milwaukee, Knievel never rode the motorcycle because he suffered a mild (non-debilitating) stroke prior to the appearance and limited his visit to a signing session.[23]

On July 27, 2006, on The Adam Carolla Show, Knievel said that he had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and required supplemental oxygen therapy 24 hours a day.

On July 28, 2006, at Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Robbie jumped 196 feet in a tribute to his father, Evel. Robbie also appeared on stage with his father.

Shortly before his death, Knievel was saluted by Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond in a BBC2 Christmas special. The sixty minute programme Richard Hammond Meets Evel Knievel aired on December 23, 2007. The documentary was filmed in the summer of 2007 around the annual "Evel Knievel Days" festival in his old home town of Butte. Knievel was clearly in severely declining health, but he still displayed the same spirit and showmanship that had driven his career.

Religious conversion

On April 1, 2007, Knievel appeared on Rev. Robert H. Schuller's Hour of Power television program and announced that he "believed in Jesus Christ" for the first time.[24]

At his request, he was baptized before the congregation and TV cameras by Dr. Schuller, Founding Pastor of the Crystal Cathedral. Christianity Today reported that "...Knievel's testimony triggered mass baptisms at the Crystal Cathedral."[25]

Evel Knievel: The Rock Opera

In 2003, Knievel signed over exclusive rights to Los Angeles composer Jef Bek, authorizing the production of a rock opera based on Knievel's life.[26][27] Directed by Bat Boy co-creator Keythe Farley, the production opened in Los Angeles in September 2007 to excellent reviews.[28][29]

Six Flags Evel Knievel roller coaster

Evel Knievel had partnered with Six Flags St. Louis to name a new wooden coaster after "America's Legendary Daredevil".[30] The amusement park in Eureka, Missouri, outside of St. Louis, Missouri, opened the ride on June 20, 2008.

Declining health and death

In the late 1990s, Knievel was in need of a life-saving liver transplant as a result of suffering the long-term effects from Hepatitis C. He contracted the disease after one of the numerous blood transfusions he received prior to 1992. In February 1999, Knievel was given only a few days to live and he requested to leave the hospital and die at his home. En route to his home, Knievel received a phone call from the hospital stating a young man had died in a motorcycle accident and could be a donor. Days later, Knievel successfully received the transplant.[4]

In 2005, he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable and terminal lung disease that required him to be on supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day. In 2006, Evel had an internal morphine pain pump surgically implanted to help him with the excruciating pain in his deteriorated lower back, one of the costs of incurring so many traumas over the course of his career as a daredevil. He also had two strokes since 2005, but neither left him with severe debilitation.[31]

Knievel died in Clearwater, Florida, on November 30, 2007, aged 69. He had been suffering from diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis for many years.[32] A longtime friend reported that Knievel had trouble breathing while at his residence in Clearwater, but died before the ambulance could reach the hospital. "It's been coming for years, but you just don't expect it. Superman just doesn't die, right?"[33] In one of his last interviews, he told Maxim Magazine, "You can't ask a guy like me why [I performed]. I really wanted to fly through the air. I was a daredevil, a performer. I loved the thrill, the money, the whole macho thing. All those things made me Evel Knievel. Sure, I was scared. You gotta be an ass not to be scared. But I beat the hell out of death."[34]

Knievel was buried at Mountain View Cemetery in his hometown of Butte, Montana on December 10, 2007, following a funeral at the 7,500-seat[35] Butte Civic Center presided over by Rev. Robert Schuller (actor Matthew McConaughey gave the eulogy). Prior to the Monday service, fireworks exploded in the Butte night sky as pallbearers carried Knievel's casket into the center.[36]


  • Knievel's daredevil persona was parodied as "Super Dave Osborne", a fictional character played by Bob Einstein whose signature is to perform outrageous stunts which invariably go awry and result in grievous injury.
  • Knievel was also parodied in the episode "Bart the Daredevil" on The Simpsons in the guise of "Captain Lance Murdock". Murdock is a motorcycle daredevil whom Bart meets and is inspired by. Bart turns to daredevilism on his skateboard. The climax of the episode is when Bart attempts to jump his skateboard across "Springfield Gorge", an obvious parody of the Snake River Canyon jump. Homer then comes and stops Bart from making the jump and, while standing on the skateboard, begins to descend down the ramp into the Gorge. At first it appears that Homer is going to make the jump and then he falls to the bottom of the Gorge, suffering several major injuries.[37]
  • The recurring character of Ernie Devlin from Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law is also a parody of Knievel. Always seen on a motorcycle, with an overweight prostitute, he was sued for children imitating his stunts. The character was originally created in 1974 as the lead character of a children's dramatic animated series of the same name by Hanna-Barbera.
  • Knievel also appears in the film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, in which he is frozen along with Vanilla Ice and Austin Powers.
  • Knievel has also been copied by Marvel Comics for the famous character Ghost Rider. His troop is known as "The Daredevils". Most of their scenes are based on Knievel's stunts and, in the movie, Johnny Blaze's costume is similar to Knievel's.
  • Knievel has been parodied in Kanye West's music video Touch the Sky, for which Knievel actually pressed charges on West for copyright infringement. The case was settled days before Knievel died.
  • Knievel has been parodied in the South Park episode "Pinkeye" as Chef portrays Knievel in a Halloween costume.
  • He is also shown in Disney Channel's The Replacements as Dick Daring, an overactive stuntsman that performs stunts and wears an outfit very similar to Evel Knievels. He also has a stuff bear named "Evel Bearnievel".
  • The 2008 series The Mr. Men Show, has a character named Little Miss Daredevil who wears a similar crash helmet and pulls off stunts in a similar vein to Evel Knievel's more famous stunts.
  • The 2007 movie Hot Rod with Andy Samberg parodies Evel Knievel, with the main character attempting to become a stunt man and tries to clear fifteen buses to save his step father.
  • The makers of MTV's Jackass, in collaboration with Matt Hoffman, have released a tribute to the late stunt man, where the boys of Jackass attempt to set world records and emulate one of their heroes.
  • Stand-up comedian George Carlin, in his famous monologue about air-travel criticized the term "getting on the plane" saying "I'm getting IN the plane. Let Evel Knievel get ON the plane!"

See also


  1. ^ See inogolo: pronunciation of Evel Knievel.
  2. ^ Daredevil. Smithsonian Magazine, March 2008
  3. ^ http://freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~gustaf/knievel.html
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Stuart Barker, Life of Evel Knievel, St. Martin's Press, 2008.
  5. ^ http://www.economist.com/obituary/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10250075
  6. ^ Numbelivable!, p.142, Michael X. Ferraro and John Veneziano, Triumph Books, Chicago, Illinois, 2007, ISBN 978-1-57243-990-0
  7. ^ "Montana Guide Hitch-Hikes Here to Save Elk Herd". The Washington Post, Times Herald (The Washington Post): p. B4. 1961-12-12. 
  8. ^ Richard Backus (March/April 2008). "Evel Knievel: Remembering America's Stuntman". Motorcycle Classics. http://www.motorcycleclassics.com/Legendary-Riders/2008-03-01/Knieval.aspx. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  9. ^ CNN - Leap into the daredevil record book - April 27, 1998
  10. ^ http://espn.go.com/abcsports/wwos/e_knievel.html
  11. ^ "Evel Knieval's Harley XR-750". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object.cfm?key=35&objkey=175. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  12. ^ Richard Hammond Meets Evel Knievel
  13. ^ http://espn.go.com/abcsports/wwos/knievel/wembley.html
  14. ^ http://knievelmotorcycles.com/
  15. ^ ABC Sports - Wide World of Sports
  16. ^ Last of the Gladiators, 2006.
  17. ^ http://www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2008/07/26/news/state/45-knievel.txt
  18. ^ http://www.sptimes.com/2002/02/21/TampaBay/Knievel_ordered_to_le.shtml
  19. ^ http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,196271,00.html
  20. ^ http://registeredrep.com/newsletters/wealthmanagement/high_flyer_1126/
  21. ^ Mansour, David (2005). From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews McMeel. pp. 267. ISBN 0740751182. OCLC 57316726. 
  22. ^ Synge, Dan (2004). Cool Collectibles. London: Miller's. pp. 60. ISBN 1840008946. OCLC 60592526. 
  23. ^ http://www2.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=361048
  24. ^ Associated Press (2007-04-20). "Evel Knievel Baptized at Crystal Cathedral; Rev. Schuller Admires Daredevil's "Possibility Thinking"". abc7.com. KABC-TV. http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=local&id=5230422. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  25. ^ Greenberg, Brad A. (2007-04-13). "Evel Overcome With Good; Daredevil Knievel's testimony triggers mass baptisms at Crystal Cathedral". Christianity Today. OCLC 1554505. ISSN 0009-5753. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/aprilweb-only/115-43.0.html. Retrieved 2007-06-20. 
  26. ^ CBS News (2003-04-21). "Evel Knievel's Life May Jump Into Opera". cbsnews.com. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/04/21/entertainment/main550290.shtml. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  27. ^ BBC News (2003-04-22). "Evel Knievel gets rock opera". news.bbc.co.uk. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/2966269.stm. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  28. ^ Los Angeles Times (2007-10-05). "Rock opera 'Knievel' soars through a rebel's life". latimes.com. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-evel5oct05,1,579582.story. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  29. ^ LA Weekly (2007-10-10). "Theater Reviews By L.A. Weekly Theater Critics". laweekly.com. http://www.laweekly.com/stage/theater/theater-reviews/17408/. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  30. ^ "Soar the high-energy new coaster, Evel Knievel", http://www.sixflags.com/stLouis/rides/EvelKnievel.aspx
  31. ^ Evel Knievel.Com - The Official Site
  32. ^ Richard Severo (2007-12-01). "Evel Knievel, 69, Daredevil on a Motorcycle, Dies". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/01/us/01knievel.html. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  33. ^ ESPN - Evel Knievel dies at 69; had long been in failing health - ESPN
  34. ^ Jordan, Pat (2007-11-16). "Evel Never Dies". Maxim Magazine: p. 3. Archived from the original on 22 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-27. ""You can't ask a guy like me why," Evel snaps. "I wanted to fly through the air. I was a daredevil, a performer. I loved the thrill, the money, the whole macho thing. All those things made me Evel Knievel. Sure, I was scared. You gotta be an ass not to be scared. But I beat the hell out of death. It would all go by so fast, in a blur. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi. You're in the air for four seconds, you're part of the machine, and then if you make a mistake midair, you say to yourself, 'Oh, boy. I'm gonna crash,' and there's nothing you can do to stop it, not at all."" 
  35. ^ "Butte Civic Center Facts". Butte Civic Center. December 2007. http://www.butteciviccenter.com/AboutUs/factsandrates.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-10. 
  36. ^ "Hero's final salute: Butte readies for Knievel's funeral". The Montana Standard. 2007-12-10. http://www.montanastandard.com/articles/2007/12/10/butte_top/20071210_butte_top.txt. 
  37. ^ The Simpsons (1989) - Trivia

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:



From Evel Knievel, name of a world famous daredevil.

Proper noun

Evel Knievel


Evel Knievel

  1. (idiomatic) An equivalent of Evel Kievel
  2. (idiomatic) A daredevil
  3. (idiomatic) A reckless showboating driver.


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