Friday, November 30, 2007

RIP Evel Knievel

Robert Craig Knievel aka Evel Knievel died today. He was 69 years old. Many of you younger ZONE readers may not remember Evel, but my guess is you know something about this outrageous daredevil whose biggest claims to fame came from unsuccessful jumps.

In 1965, Knievel led a group that he named Evel Knievel's Motorcycle Daredevils. They would travel from town to town performing typical motorcycle stunts of the era: riding wheelies, driving through fire walls and jumping things. Knievel had a knack for self-promotion and a talent for jumping his motorcycle over things. In 1966 he began touring alone and his jumps continued to become bigger.

On New Year's Day in 1968 he failed in his attempt to jump the fountains at Caesar's Palace. Although the jump nearly killed him, it also launched him in to popular culture history. In the years to follow there would be more jumps, astronomical paychecks, tv and movie appearances, Evel Knievel toys and collector cards and an ever growing legend. Most kids my age went through a period when they considered Evel Knievel to be "the man." He was outrageous, traveled where he wanted, had tons of money and beautiful women and risked his life doing what he wanted.

In 1974, Knievel was paid $6 million dollars by ABC for the rights to televise his attempt to jump the Snake River canyon in a rocket-motorcycle. I remember watching the show live and my total disappointment when the chute malfunctioned almost immediately. Although Knievel continued to make big jumps and big money, I had lost interest. Knievel retired from big jumps in 1976, but continued touring into the 1980's. He had been in failing health in recent years.

In 2006, Evel was quoted as saying, "No king or prince has lived a better life." Evel lived his life doing things his way and for a several years he was as popular as any rock star. It's hard to imagine that a guy who jumped his motorcycle over things could have had such an impact on popular culture, but Evel Knievel did.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, and fans.

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