Robert Craig Knievel, Jr., aka Evel Knievel, has passed on. My mother adored him, and now he is gone, as indeed, she is also gone.
He was crazy, and everyone in the 70s loved him for it. This was back in the day, before everybody did weird things to get on TV. Evel Knievel was ahead of his time, and understood public relations. He would talk to anyone, any time. About himself, of course.
Knievel was a pole vaulter, hockey player, and insurance salesman, before getting into the motorcycle business. He was a bust as a salesman, but soon found his calling as a professional motorcycle-daredevil, jumping over a box of rattlesnakes, mountain lions, a cargo van, a speeding motorcycle, Greyhound buses, double decker-buses (in London) and cars. Lots and lots of cars. As a child, I watched with heart pounding as he smashed into the pavement, again and again, one of the famous filmed intros to ABC's WILD WORLD OF SPORTS.
One of his biggest disasters was his jump over the fountains at Caesars Palace, which made him ultra-mega-famous, but left him in a coma for 29 days. At some point, it seems he broke nearly every bone in his body, while doing daredevil jumps at $25,000 a clip. Going to see Evel in one of these shows was like going to see a rock star or a concert, and people lined up for the opportunity.
The Snake River Canyon jump was first conceived because the US Government would not allow Evel to jump over the Grand Canyon, which is a national park, after all. I recall conversations on late night TV, in which it was posited that he might jump from skyscraper to skyscraper (later seen in THE MATRIX), and it was thought he might actually be insane, but nobody cared. He broke a record selling tickets at the Houston Astrodome, as he also broke a record on February 28, 1971, jumping over 19 cars in Ontario, California.
Weirdscifi describes the Snake River Canyon jump:
He brawled, he drank, he got hepatitis, he filed for bankruptcy. He was sued by the state of Montana for back taxes. He was busted for soliciting an undercover policewoman, as well as possessing illegal firearms. He also played himself on The Bionic Woman and his likeness was made into a plastic toy action-figure for little boys across the USA.
Knievel hired former Navy engineer Bob Truax to build a rocket-powered Sky-Cycle. The Sky-Cycle cost over $150,000 and was unsuccessful in clearing the canyon in test runs. Despite this, Knievel decided to make the attempt.
“I didn’t think I even had a 50-50 chance to make it,” Knievel remembers. “Everyone told me not to do it, but I was determined to keep my word, so I climbed up and got strapped in. When I punched that power button I thought, ‘God, here I come.’”
The parachute of the Sky-Cycle deployed almost immediately after launching and Knievel fell to the riverbank hundreds of feet down in the canyon. He escaped with minor injuries.
Evel Knievel became a Christian earlier this year, and it is my prayer that he rest in peace. He was always big, it was the canyons that got small.
Listening to: Red Hot Chili Peppers - Hollywood (Africa)