If you subscribe to wingnutty ‘Mandela Effect’ conspiracy theories; then you might be convinced that beloved American stuntman Evel Knievel died sometime in the 90s; while performing one of his death-defying feats. But back down here in the real world, it’s well known that Knievel died of natural causes in Clearwater, Florida, in 2007 at the age of 69.
Professionally known as Evel Knievel but born Robert Craig Knievel. This famed entertainer and daredevil attempted more than 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps throughout his prolific career. For his years of excellence pushing his body to the limit and consistently cheating death. Knievel inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.
The world absolutely loved Evel Knievel, but especially Americans, who resonated with the fearless madcap’s ruggedness. They loved to watch him fly through the sky. And even though it was a bit scarring to watch, they also secretly loved to see him crash.
But even though it was always such a treat to watch him make one of his harrowing jump attempts. Most people struggled to comprehend why anyone was willing to put themselves through all of that self-inflicted torture. Time and time again, Knievel would land himself in the hospital. And in no time, he would be right back on the seat of his motorbike once again to make another attempt at cheating death. Over his 15-year jumping career, he would not surprisingly break almost every bone in his body.
Through all of the pain and suffering, Knievel still deeply loved doing what he was famed for. Famously, he quoted as saying that aside from his professional career as an intrepid show-off. His life was actually fairly boring. He lived for the ‘death-or-glory’ lifestyle that had made him a star. But even though risking life and limb for the sake of proving his worth as a capable daredevil was his lifeblood. He would retire from his favorite, albeit risky, pastime some 30 years before his death.
Join Facts Verse as we reveal why he left the world of professional stuntmanship while covering some of the fascinating details of his storied life and career.
Evel Knievel’s Relatively Mundane Early Years
Knievel was born on October 17, 1938, in the town of Butte, Montana. He was the first child of Robert E. and Anne Marie Keough Knievel; who had their second child, Nicholas, just one year later in 1939. His mother was of Irish ancestry, while his father’s family hailed from Germany.
Robert and Ann ended up divorcing in 1949. And afterward, they both decided to move away from Butte in search of greener pastures leaving their children behind in the care of their paternal grandparents, Ignatius and Emma Knievel.
At age eight, Knievel went to a Joie Chitwood daredevil show. Which he later credited as the inspiration for his own life-long love affair with auto stunts. After his sophomore year, Knievel dropped out of Butte High School and got a job working in the copper mines as a diamond drill operator for the Anaconda Mining Company. But even though he somewhat enjoyed that line of work, he much preferred motorbiking.
Knievel quickly promoted to surface duty, where he would drive a huge earthmover around for the mining company. Knievel ended up getting himself fired; however, when he performed a wheelie with the earthmover and accidentally drove into the city of Butte’s primary power line, leaving the city in a total blackout for several hours.
According to Knievel’s webpage, he selected his iconic nickname after spending a night in the county jail in 1956 after being arrested for reckless driving. It was in that jail that he met a man that had the nickname of Awful Knofel. It’s a matter of personal opinion, really, but we think that Evel ended up with the superior alias.
Knievel was the type of person that was always in search of new thrills and challenges to conquer. In his early days of daredeviling, he participated in local rodeos and ski jumping competitions. In the late 50s, Knievel joined the US Army, where he put his athletic ability to the test by joining the track team where he competed as a pole vaulter.
After being discharged from the Army, he went back home to Butte; where he met his first wife, Linda Joan Bork. Not long after the two got married, Knievel helped found the Butte Bombers, a semi-professional hockey team.
To raise money for and to promote the team, he managed to convince the Czechoslovakian Olympic ice hockey team to come out to Butte to play a warm-up game against the Bombers. This is for prep for the 1960 Winter Olympics. Knievel ended up getting ejected from the game just minutes into the third period and left the stadium in a huff. When the Czech officials went to the box office to attempt to collect the money that the team promised to come out and play. The workers realized that the proceeds from the game had been stolen. The US Olympic Committee then had to pay them out of pocket to avoid a scandalous and potentially politically volatile international incident.
After welcoming his first son into the world, Knievel realized that he really needed to figure out a new way of earning morning to support his family. So, he started the Sur-Kill Guide Service. Where he promised hunters to help bag big game animals if they paid his fee and employed his services as a skilled hunter and fisherman.
In 1961, Knievel hitchhiked to Washington DC in order to lobby for the elk in Yellowstone relocated to areas where hunting was permissible.
After coming back home, he started competing in motocross with modest success. In 1982, he ended up breaking his collarbone and shoulder in a motorbike accident. And his doctors advised him not to race for at least half a year while he healed. Worried about financially supporting his family, Knievel worked as an insurance salesman while he recovered from his injuries.
He was an excellent salesman, but the Combined Insurance Company of America. The company he worked for, refused to promote him to the office of vice-president as he was hoping, so he quit. He then relocated his family to the town of Moses Lake in Washington, where he opened a Honda Motorcycle dealership.
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From Petty Criminal To Renowned Stuntman
Evel Knievel always had a bit of a bad streak in him. At the age of 13, he stole his first motorcycle, a Harley- Davidson. A few years later, his grandmom bought him a new Triumph. One of his favorite pastimes, when he was young, was throwing rocks at prostitutes and attempting to outrun their short-tempered pimps.
Eventually, after the whole insurance salesman thing fell through, Knievel realized that his main passion in life was motorcycles. While working in Washington at the Honda dealership; he would offer anyone a $100 discount if they could beat him in an arm-wrestling match. That’s about the time when he realized that he could take his daredevil-antics to the next level by turning it into a full-fledged career.
To stimulate business for the Honda dealership he owned, Knievel performed his first motorcycle stunt in his late twenties. The stunt involved him jumping rows of parked cars. A cougar in a cage, and a box of rattlesnakes who probably thought he was a maniac.
From 1965 to 1968, he performed with a troupe called Evel Knievel’s Motorcycle Daredevils. But from then on, he chose to pursue a solo career. Donning his signature star-spangled red, white, and blue Jumpsuit, Knievel would make more than 300 jumps throughout his career. And it’s claimed that he broke almost every bone in his body. Although, in truth, he documented as breaking 35 bones for his antics, which still ended up in Guinness-Certified World Record.
In 1968, he performed his most famous stunt when he leaped over the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He ended up botching the landing, however, leaving him comatose for a month with a fractured skull.
Some of his other well-publicized stunts included jumping over 50 cars at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1973. A failed attempt to leap over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho while riding a rocket-propelled motorcycle that he dubbed the Sky-Cycle in 1974, clearing 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in London in 1975 and this notorious last jump in 1976.
Evel Knievel’s Last Jump And Retirement
Knievel’s final jump in 1976 was a Jaws-inspired gimmick that ended up coining the phrase ‘Jump The Shark’. Although the Fonz from Happy Days also deserves some credit for that as well. The phrase would go on to be synonymous with saying that someone’s best days were behind them.
Knievel’s career had already on the decline when he attempted to leap over what promoted as ‘the world’s largest indoor saltwater pool’. Which filled with what billed as ‘man-eating killer sharks’. The jump took place at the Chicago International Amphitheatre on January 31, 1977.
Even though the show’s promoters did their best to hype up the supposed danger of the jump; at the end of the day, the distance that he had to clear was only 64 feet. And for Knievel, that wasn’t much of a challenge – and even the sharks weren’t much of threat.
Jerry Clay, the man that supplied the sharks for the event, told the press that if Knievel to fall in, he would likely just scare the animals right out of the pool, and the sharks that he provided. In fact, lemon and blue sharks, not anything like the Great White beast that seen in the film Jaws.
During rehearsal for the jump, Knievel ended up losing control of his motorcycle, crashing into a cameraman. He broke both of his arms but was far more upset with the fact that he had damaged the eye of the cameraman, Thomas Geren.
It was later that year that Henry Winkler, aka Fonzie, performed a similar trick on Happy Days, albeit while on waterskis, thus cementing that infamous phrase ‘jumping the shark’, in America’s cultural lexicon.
After the failed shark-jumping attempt, Knievel retired from major performances; and would only make limited appearances later on at smaller venues while trying to help launch his son, Robbie’s career. The Chicago botched jump attempt would be something that would leave Evel feeling embarrassment and regret up until his death in 2007. And while he earned over $60 million dollars throughout his career as a stuntman, he quoted as saying that he spent $61 million, leaving him with an enormous amount of debt that would plague him for years.
But more than anything, the number one reason why Evel Knievel quit the profession that he virtually lived and breathed for so many years was the fact that he had become increasingly cautious as time went on – especially after his horrific crash at Wembley Stadium in 1975.
Knievel deeply loved his four children and didn’t want them to have to see their father prematurely in a coffin.
Anyway, that about wraps up this video. Are you a fan of high-flying, death-defying stunts like the ones that Evel Knievel was famous for? Or do you think that he must have had a few screws loose to live his life in the seemingly reckless way that he did? Let us know in the comments down below.
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