- Category : Stuntman
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Maya 3
Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel, Jr. (born October 17, 1938 in Butte, Montana) is a motorcycle daredevil who has been a household name since the late 1960s. Evel Knievel's highly publicized motorcycle jumps, including his attempt to jump over the Snake River Canyon, claim four of the top 20 most-watched Wide World of Sports events of all time.
Knievel was the first of two children born to Robert and Ann Knievel. Robert and Ann divorced in 1940, just after the birth of their second child, Nic. Both parents decided to leave Butte and their two children to get a new start. The children were raised by their paternal grandparents, Ignatius and Emma Knievel. At the age of eight, Knievel attended a Joie Chitwood Auto Daredevil Show, which he credits for his later career choice to become a motorcycle daredevil.
Knievel dropped out of high school after his sophomore year and got a job with the Anaconda Mining Company as a diamond drill operator in the copper mines. He was promoted to surface duty where his job was driving a large earth mover. Knievel was fired when he made the earth mover pop a motorcycle-type wheelie and drove it into Butte's main power line, leaving the city without electricity for several hours. With a lot of time on his hands, Knievel began to get into more and more trouble around Butte. After one particular 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," so Knievel began to be referred to as Evel Knievel. The nickname stuck.
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 1957. In the late 1950s, Knievel joined the 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, kidnapped and married his first wife, Linda Bork. Shortly after getting married, Knievel left Butte to join the Charlotte Checkers of the Eastern Hockey League, a minor professional ice hockey league. Realizing that he wasn't talented enough to make it into the National Hockey League and that the real money in sports, at the time, was in owning a team, Knievel returned to Butte and started the Butte Bombers, a semi-pro hockey team. To help promote his team and earn some money, he convinced the 1960 Olympic Czechoslovakian hockey team to play his 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 that the team was promised, workers discovered the game receipts had been stolen. The U.S. Olympic Committee ended up paying the Czechoslovakian expenses in order to avoid an international incident.
After the birth of his first son, Kelly, Knievel realized that he needed to come up with a new way to support his family. Using the hunting and fishing skills taught to him by his grandfather, Knievel started the Sur-Kill Guide Service. He guaranteed that if a hunter signed up with his service and paid his fee that they would get the big game animal that they wanted or he would refund their money. Business was very brisk until game wardens realized that he was taking his clients into Yellowstone National Park to find their prey. As a result of this poaching, Knievel had to shut down his new business venture. Having few options, he turned to a life of crime, becoming a burglar. It is rumored that Knievel bought his first bike after breaking into the safe of the Butte courthouse.
In December 1961, Knievel, learning about the culling of elk in Yellowstone Park, decided to hitchhike from Butte to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness and to have the elk relocated to areas open to hunters. He presented his case to Representative Arnold Olsen, Senator Mike Mansfield and Kennedy administration Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. As a result of his efforts, the slaughter was stopped, and the animals have since been regularly captured and relocated to areas of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Knievel decided to go straight after returning home from Washington. He joined the motocross circuit and had moderate success, but still couldn't make enough money to support his family. In 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. To this day Knievel credits much of his success to Stone and his book.
Knievel did very well as an insurance salesman (even going as far as to sell insurance policies to several institutionalized mental patients) and wanted to be quickly rewarded for his efforts. When the company refused to promote him to vice-president after a few months on the job, he quit. Needing a fresh start away from Butte, Knievel moved his family to Moses Lake, Washington. There, he opened a Honda motorcycle dealership and promoted motocross racing. Times were tough in the early 1960s for Japanese imports. People still considered them inferior to American built motorcycles, and there were still lingering resentments stemming from World War II, which had ended fewer than twenty years earlier. At one point, Knievel offered a $100 discount to anybody who could beat him at arm wrestling. Despite his best efforts the store eventually closed.'
Not having any way to support his family, Knievel recalled the Joie Chitwood show he saw as a boy and decided that he could do a similar show 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 coming up short and having his back wheel hit the box containing the rattlesnakes, Knievel managed to land safely.
Knievel realized that to make any real money he would have to hire more performers, stunt coordinators and other personnel so that he could concentrate on the jumps. Being broke, he went looking for a sponsor and found one in Bob Blair, 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 first show 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 got several offers to host his show after their first performance. The second booking was in Hemet, California, but was cancelled because of 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. Knievel ended up in the hospital because of his injuries. When released, he returned to Barstow to finish the performance he had started almost a month before.
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 stuntmen 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 in order 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 only suffered a serious concussion. After recovering for a month, he 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 got 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.
While in Las Vegas, Nevada, to watch Dick Tiger fight a middleweight title fight, 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 Caesar's 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 a single $100 dollar bet on the blackjack table, which he lost, stopped by the bar and got a shot of Wild Turkey and then headed outside where he was joined by several members of the Caesars staff, as well as two scantily clad 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.
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 aide 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 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, once again breaking his hip. During his recovery, Knievel had the X-1 Skycycle built by NASA aeronautical engineer Doug Malewicki to promote his Grand Canyon jump. More showpiece than actual motorcycle, the X-1 had two rocket engines capable of producing thrust of more than 14,000 pounds force (62 kN) bolted to the side of a normal motorcycle. Knievel also had all the trucks he used to go from one jump to the next painted to promote the Grand Canyon jump.
Marketing the image
Knievel sought to make more money off of his image. 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 that 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 The Evel Knievel Story, a 1971 movie starring George Hamilton as Knievel.
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 to obtain government permission. ABC's Wide World of Sports started showing Knievel's jumps on television with regularity. 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 him part of his pit crew for the Indianapolis 500 in 1970. His huge fame caused him to start traveling with a bodyguard, Boots Curtis, a long time Knievel friend.
Later in the decade, the merchandising of the Knievel image reached additional mediums. Ideal Toys released a bendable Knievel action figure in 1974; along with a host of accessories, there was also a female counterpart available—Derry Daring. 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."
Snake River Canyon
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 the 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, 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 in Ontario, California. 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.
Knievel continued to jump and promote his Labor Day assault on the Snake River Canyon. On March 3, 1972 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Knievel got into a scuffle with a couple of Hells Angels in the audience. After making a successful jump, he tried to come to a quick stop because of a short landing area. Knievel ended up getting thrown off and run over by his motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson. Knievel ended up with a broken back and a concussion.
ABC Sports was unwilling to pay the price Knievel wanted for the canyon jump, so he ended up hiring Bob Arum's company, Top Rank Productions, to put the event on pay-per-view cable. Arum partnered with Invest West Sports, Sheldon Saltman's company, in order 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 former NASA engineer Robert Truax to design and build the X-2 Skycycle. During two test jumps, the first on April 15, 1972, and the second on June 24, 1973, the rocket failed to make it all the way across the canyon. Knievel said that there would be no more tests and that he would go ahead with the scheduled jump on September 8, 1974.
The launch at the Snake River Canyon was at 3:36 p.m. local time. The steam that powered the engine had to get up to a temperature of 700 °F (370 °C). upon takeoff, the drogue parachute accidentally deployed when the three 1/4 inch bolts holding the cover for the chute sheared off 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 the wind began to cause it to drift back as the skycycle turned on its side and started to descend into the canyon. By the time it hit the bottom of the canyon, the wind had pushed it across the river enough so that it landed half in and half out of the water, just a couple feet more in the water and Knievel would have drowned. Knievel survived the jump with only minor injuries.
On May 31, 1975, in front of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London, England, Knievel crashed while trying to land a jump over thirteen double decker Routemaster buses. After the crash, despite breaking his pelvis, Knievel addressed the audience and announced his retirement. 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 Kings Island, Ohio. This event scored the highest viewer ratings in the history of ABC's Wide World of Sports. After this jump, he again announced his retirement. Evel jumped on October 31, 1976 at the Seattle Kingdome. He only jumped seven Greyhound Buses. The jump was a success. Despite the crowd's pleasure, Knievel felt that it was not his best jump. He apologized to the crowd for the jump not being that great.
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 flop.
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, Sheldon Saltman, the book painted a less than perfect picture of Knievel's character and alleged that he abused his wife and kids and that he used drugs. Knievel, with both arms still in casts, flew to California to confront Saltman, a VP at Twentieth Century Fox. Outside the studio commissary, one of Knievel's friends grabbed Shelly 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. He had been a left-handed competitive tennis player before the attack.
When reports of the savage attack on Saltman were shown on the evening news, Saltman's elderly mother back in Boston suffered a heart attack from the shock and died soon thereafter. In addition, 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. A judge in the case called Knievel's actions among the "most despicable" and "cowardly" that he had ever seen. On October 14, 1977, Knievel pleaded guilty to battery and was sentenced to three years probation and six months in the county jail, during which he publicly flaunted his brief incarceration for the press as just one more publicity stunt.
With no income, Knievel eventually had to declare bankruptcy. In 1981, Saltman was awarded a $13 million judgement against Knievel in a civil trial but never received money from Knievel's estate. In 1983, the IRS determined that Knievel failed to pay $1.6 million in taxes on earnings from his jumps. In addition to the back taxes, they demanded another $2.5 million in interest and penalties. Then the State of Montana sued Knievel for $390,000 in back taxes. In 1986, Knievel was arrested for soliciting an undercover policewoman in Kansas City, Missouri. Knievel's wife, Linda, left him and returned home to Butte.
Knievel made several attempts to reconcile with his estranged son, Robbie, even appearing with him at a couple of jumps. After Robbie's successful jump of the Caesar's Palace fountains, the two went their separate ways for good. Knievel made somewhat of a marketing comeback in the 1990s, representing Maxim Casino, Little Caesar's and Harley-Davidson among other companies. In 1993, Evel Knievel was diagnosed with hepatitis C, apparently contracted during one of his numerous reconstructive surgeries.
In 1994, in Sunnyvale, California, during a domestic disturbance call, police found several firearms in Knievel's car. He was convicted and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service for a weapons violation. He had a liver transplant in 1999. That year, he was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
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, FL. Standing up for Evel was his oldest son Kelly Knievel; Krystal's twin sister Shawn (Kennedy) Marsh served as Maid of Honor. Long-time friend Engelbert Humperdinck sent a recorded tribute to the couple. They were divorced in 2001.
On July 27, 2006, on The Adam Carolla Show, Knievel said that he has idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and requires supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day.
On July 28, 2006, at Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Robbie jumped 180 feet in a tribute to his father. Robbie also appeared on stage with his father, Evel.
In December 2006, Knievel sued rapper Kanye West for trademark infringement in West's video for Touch the Sky.
Conversion to Christianity
On April 1, 2007, Knievel announced to a worldwide audience that he "believed in Jesus Christ" for the first time. He professed his personal faith in Christ to more than 4,000 people who gathered inside the Crystal Cathedral for Palm Sunday services in Orange County, California, and to millions via an Hour of Power telecast of the service to over 100 countries.
Knievel told how he had refused for 68 years to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior because he didn’t want to surrender his lifestyle of "the gold and the gambling and the booze and the women." He explained his conversion experience by saying, "All of a sudden, I just believed in Jesus Christ. I did, I believed in him!" Knievel said he knew people were praying for him, including his daughter's church, his ex-wife's church, and the hundreds of people who wrote letters urging him to believe.
Knievel recounted how he "rose up in bed and, I was by myself, and I said, 'Devil, Devil, you bastard you, get away from me. I cast you out of my life….' I just got on my knees and prayed that God would put his arms around me and never, ever, ever let me go." At his request, he was baptized before the congregation and TV cameras by Dr. Robert H. Schuller, Founding Pastor of the Crystal Cathedral. Christianity Today reported that "...Knievel's testimony triggered mass baptisms at the Crystal Cathedral" following his emotional testimony.