Evel Knievel

I was one of thousands, perhaps hundred of thousands of kids in the 1970?s who made a couple of ramps and jumped over?well you name it, toy cars, all kinds of junk, even our friends. Why? Because we all wanted to be Evel Knievel. He was coolest of the cool. Fonzie was cool, but not as cool as Evel. We had the Evel Knievel toys, the posters, cycles, action figures, you name it we had it (Evel Knievel toys accounted for more than $300 million in sales for Ideal and other companies in the 1970s and ’80s). Back in the days of Watergate and the Steve Miller Band, all of us were enthralled by those fantastic jumps. The images of Evel speeding down those ramps, flying through the air, sometimes nailing the landing, other times pin wheeling out of control in a hail of broken bones, the smoke from the tires caused by a stuck throttle on his Harley made for frightening yet, enthralling entertainment. They made movies about him, I remember watching Knievel play himself in “Viva Knievel” and being in an episode TV series “Bionic Woman.” Even George Hamilton and Sam Elliott played Knievel in movies about his life. He was a pop culture icon.

Who can forget ABC Wide World of Sports? Frank Gifford their ?insider? and Evel?s friend, interviewing him on the ramp before a jump? It all added to the anticipation. The one cinch in Evel?s armor was the 1974 Snake River Canyon jump. Evel wanted to jump the Grand canyon however government interference made Evel choose the Idaho canyon. Talk about hype. That jump dominated all three arms of the media back then, because that?s there was – network TV, newspaper and radio. Even as a kid I thought it was a hokey idea, a rocket cycle, huh? C?mon Evel, you can do better than that. But, we had to watch it. We all gazed at the site of the chute popping open when the thing launched. The drama of the fall into the canyon. The people screaming, why are they screaming? It?s Evel, he may get hurt, but you it won?t kill him. It’s Evel, he may get hurt, but you can?t kill him.

Well, it wasn?t an accident that did him in, was hepatitis C and bunch of other things that killed him ? it just took longer than he or anyone else might have expected. He had been in failing health for years, suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable condition that scarred his lungs. He had undergone a liver transplant in 1999 after nearly dying of the hepatitis C that he may had contracted through a blood transfusion after one of his many spills. He also suffered two strokes in the last couple of years. Mitch Stacey of Yahoo Sports reported that longtime friend and promoter Billy Rundle said Knievel had trouble breathing at his Clearwater condominium and died before an ambulance could get him to a hospital. “It’s been coming for years, but you just don’t expect it. Superman just doesn’t die, right?” said Rundle, organizer of the annual “Evel Knievel Days” festival in the daredevil’s Butte, MT, hometown. Knievel’s son Kelly, 47, said he had visited his father in Clearwater for Thanksgiving. “I think he lived 20 years longer than most people would have” after so many injuries, Kelly Knievel said. “I think he willed himself into an extra five or six years.”

“No king or prince has lived a better life,” Evel told The Associated Press in May 2006. “You’re looking at a guy who’s really done it all. And there are things I wish I had done better, not only for me but for the ones I loved.” He garbed himself in red, white and blue and had a knack for outrageous yarns: “Made $60 million, spent 61. …Lost $250,000 at blackjack once. … Had $3 million in the bank, though.”

It pretty much ended for Knievel in the winter of ?76 when he decided to retire after a jump in which he suffered a concussion and broke both arms in an attempt to jump a tank full of live sharks in the Chicago Amphitheater. He continued to do smaller exhibitions around the country with his son, Robbie. Robbie continues to jump today, but times have changed, it?s the X-Games generation, not the Evel Knievel generation.

It is said that many of Evel?s records have been broken by daredevil motorcyclist named Bubba Blackwell. But, who cares? Nobody knows who Bubba Blackwell is.

Two days before his death, it was announced that he and rapper Kanye West had settled a federal lawsuit over the use of Knievel’s trademarked image in a popular West music video. It was a bizarre footnote to a long strange trip of a life. Almost every male aged 35-55 lost a bit of their childhood Friday when Evel made has final pass. Evel, we?ll miss you.

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