Evel Knievel Biography

photo: Evel Knievel

His life story reads like a soap opera script. Born Robert Craig Knievel, this wild, young man from the rough mining town of Butte, Montana dreamed of becoming rich and famous after his grandparents took him to see Joey Chitwood's Auto Daredevil Show.

A keen sportsman at school, Knievel won the Northern Rocky Mountain Ski Association Class in 1957, before setting up the Butte Bombers hockey team, for which he became manager, coach and player.

After working in copper mines and as a diamond drill operator, Knievel became an insurance salesman. His love of motorcycles was always a constant factor in his life and he would later open several Honda dealerships in the Washington area.

Ever the showman, he would offer potential customers a $100 discount off the price of a motorcycle if they could beat him at arm wrestling.

In 1965, his alter ego Evel Knievel came to life and he went on to become the world's most famous daredevil. Having formed a troupe called Evel Knievel's Motorcycle Daredevils, ‘Evel’ toured the US performing stunts such as riding through fire walls, jumping over snakes and being towed at 200 miles an hour behind race cars.

By 1966 he was touring as a solo star and his stunts had become more and more daring. In 1968, he successfully jumped a massive 151 feet across the fountains in front of Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. However, his landing was far from perfect and he ended up in a coma for 30 days.

Having recovered from this crash, Evel continued with his daredevil exploits, raking in $1 million for his jump over 13 buses at Wembley Stadium and a staggering $6 million for his infamous Snake River Canyon jump. Knievel broke his pelvis during the famous Wembley jump, with his bike coming down over the 13th bus. Despite his injury, he refused to be taken off on a stretcher, saying that he came in walking and would go out walking.

By 1976 it was the end of the road for the death-defying star, after he and a cameraman were seriously injured during an attempt to jump a tank full of live sharks. The pair were injured when they collided during rehearsals. Although Knievel broke his arms during the practice run, he was said the be distraught over the fact that his cameraman lost an eye in the incident. The original footage of the crash was kept under lock and key for almost 20 years, until the making of the documentary 'Absolute Evel: The Evel Knievel Story'.

Having retired from major performances, he continued to take part exhibitions around the country with his son Robbie, who has now taken over the daredevil mantel. He was also a supporter of motorcycle helmet safety and backed the 1987 mandatory helmet bill in California.

Evel Knievel’s exploits are legendary and it's unlikely his accomplishments, or notoriety, will ever be duplicated.

In later life, he paid a high price for the life he led, suffering constant pain from the incredible abuse his body suffered during his daredevil days. He also suffered ill-health, including diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis - an incurable lung condition - for several years.

However, on Friday 30 November 2007, Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel died in Clearwater, Florida, finally succumbing after nearly a three-year battle with his lung condition. He was 69.

In one of his final interviews, Knievel told Maxim magazine: "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."

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