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Evel Knievel

The content below is from Episode 115 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast

RECOMMENDATION SEGMENT

  • This week I recommend you check out a 10-year-old movie called The Impossible.
    • Starring Naomi Watts, Ewen McGreggor, and Tom Holland when he was just a boy.
    • The movie is about a true story of a family vacationing in Indonesia when a massive Tsunami hit.
    • I didn’t expect to like the movie. I only clicked on it to see if it was Tom Holland as a kid on the cover but Tubi started playing the movie right away.
    • I was BLOWN away by how real the experience felt. It totally immerses you into the story. You feel like you are right there with Naomi Watts as she limps around the wrecked of a city in search for her family. I was cursing at my TV, shedding tears, and jumping with fright.
    • This movie is a gem and it feels like they did everything possible to portray the events as they actually happened.

NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT

  • Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel was born on October 17, 1938 in Butte Montana
    • In the early 1900’s the town of Butte looked like something out of an old wild west movie. It was known for copper mining.
      • If you haven’t been to places out west like Montana I can tell you that it has a very different feel to it than places where I grew up on the east coast. The North American west was one of the last places to be tamed by society. It may have been tamed in the last 150 years, but it still has a wild side to it.
    • Evel’s parents married young and divorced fast. Evel was born in 1938. They had a 2nd kid named Nicholas in 1939 and by 1940 both of them decided to abandon their children and leave Butte Montana altogether. For that, I won’t even mention their names here.
      • Their father was 21 years old and known for sleeping around on his 17-year-old wife. When she was pregnant with Nic she filed for divorce.
    • So the two boys were raised by their paternal grandparents Ignatius and Emma Knievel.
      • Ignatius Knievel might be one of the coolest names I’ve ever heard.
    • Their father dropped the two boys (a toddler and an infant) off at his parents’ place and went on to race cars in Reno. Little did the boys’ father know (or care) that his father Ignatius suffered from Bipolar disorder. He would go months without speaking. Meanwhile, his mother in her late 40s was not up to the task of raising 2 very young and rambunctious boys.
  • But little Evel made do with what he had and got busy growing up.
    • When he was just 8 years old, Evel went to a Joie Chitwood auto daredevil show. This is where he got the taste for adrenaline in the form of motorcycle stunts.
    • When he got a little older he joined the Track & Field and Hockey team at school. He excelled as an athlete, but his grades were not anything to write home about.
    • The people who grew up with him said Evel wasn’t a bad person, but he was always seeking a thrill and this got him in trouble.
      • No real surprise there… Evel Knievel was a handful in school
    • He was always pranking people and they usually were conducted in the name of good humor.
      • But one time he took things a bit too far. To get back at his sworn enemy the School Librarian, he took his belt and tied the library doors shut, and lit 2 large trash cans on fire. Firefighters arrived on the scene and no one was hurt, but Evel did get some legitimate punishment for this.
  • Then, when Evel was 16 years old, his dad finally came back after going to the store for cigarettes… 14 years later.
    • Papa Knievel was too late to try and turn his son around. When his father returned to Butte Montana his son had already been expelled from high school and was looking for work at the town copper mine, Anaconda Copper Mining Company.
    • One mile deep underground Evel faced the harsh reality that is the life of a miner.
      • If a cave-in, fire, or poisonous gas didn’t get him, the lung disease eventually would.
    • When papa Knievel opened a Volkswagen dealership in Butte and offered a job to his son, Evel told his old man to shove it where the sun don’t shine. Evel was determined to make it on his own. He was able to escape the fate of a miner by getting a bus driving job for the Anaconda Minding company.
    • Can you imagine getting on the bus that is supposed to take you to work every day and having a young Evel Knievel be your bus driver? LOL. I also love the fact that the name of the company that gave Evel Knievel his first job was ANACONDA
      • Legend has it that Evel would terrify his passengers by attempting stunts with the work bus.
    • He eventually lost his job because he tried to pop a wheelie with a company payloader! Of course this attempt ended in disaster because it was Evel Freaking Knievel!
      • The payloader came down on a huge power cable that left most of Butte Montana in darkness.
This is a payloader
  • When he lost his job at Anaconda he joined the Army Reserves… how do you think that played out? One of the most famous wildmen in history trying to join an organization that tries to break down and reconstruct the mentality of its members… Evel didn’t last very long in the military.
    • After the Army, he bounced from town to town as a conman and picked up odd jobs. During this period in his life he practiced his passion of motorcycle stunts and realized it could make him some cash if he promoted his stunts a bit.
  • So he told a crowd to gather at the Butte A&W to watch him climb a ridiculously steep hill with a nice Harley Davidson motorcycle. He didn’t get paid cash for this stunt, but the A&W manager realized the crowd was good for business and fed Evel for free.
    • The Harley he used in the stunt wasn’t obtained legally and not long after it, Evel was arrested for theft. While in jail he rubbed elbows with some other known crooks about the town by the name of William C Knofel.
    • Then known as Bobby Knievel heard a cop at the jail say “well boys, looks like we better double our guard. We’ve got Evel Knievel and Awful Knofel.” And so one of the coolest monikers of all time was born.
    • The short stints in jail for motorcycle theft didn’t scare him away from a life of crime. Evel soon began cracking open safes, but when he realized he could face serious time behind bars he brushed up his act.
  • So Evel decided to try his luck at athletics. He had a knack for many sports.
    • While in the Army he learned how to pole vault and wasn’t half bad.
    • As an avid skier, he tried to make money jumping off of ski slopes.
    • He even tried to start up his own hockey team.
      • He tried to be the owner, coach, and starting center of a semi-pro hockey team called the Butte Bombers.
      • He scrounged up money from his grandfather and took out a loan to start the team and pay his players $50 a game. He hardly ever was able to pay his players as the Butte Bombers didn’t draw a huge crowd.
      • Then in 1960, Evel was able to set up an international game with the Czechoslovakian Olympic hockey team.
      • Although the Butte Bombers lost the game, Evel was able to secure some extra cash lol. He started a fundraiser between the game periods to help pay for the Czech teams travel and lodging expenses. But when the game was over all that money and the receipts from the game went missing.
      • The US Olympic committee was forced to repay all that money. After all this the Butte Bombers team went belly up and Evel never went back to hockey.
    • Evel then tried to be an insurance salesman, but the 9-5 desk job didn’t suit him. This is where he realized he was one hell of a salesman though.
      • He started selling motorcycles in the state of Washington and to boost sales he would jump motorcycles over dangerous animals like mountain lions and rattlesnakes. This of course made him a local legend.
        • How could it not? I have no interest in getting a motorcycle, but if a dude was going to jump over a pit of mountain lions or rattlesnakes at my local dealership… you bet I would be there to see it
  • In 1959 Evel Knievel married Linda Bork and the two had 4 kids:
    • Sons: Robbie and Kelly
    • Daughters: Tracey and Alicia
    • Evel was married to Linda for 38 years… but it wasn’t a fairy tale marriage… we will get to that later.
  • Then in 1966, he started to go legit with his stunts by starting the Evel Knievel and His Motorcycle Daredevils stunt group.
    • But Evel must not be much of a team player because he split soon after and began his solo stunt career
    • In 1967 Evel appeared on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in a bright yellow and black racing uniform on the back of a motorcycle. He jumped 15 cars… this was his first big break in the name of fame.
  • Not long after his first big TV appearance on ABC, Evel was strolling through the Las Vegas Strip. As he passed Cesar’s Palace he got a wild idea to jump over it in a blaze of glory… you know, Evel Knievel style. But how was he going to do it?
    • Well instead of going through the proper channels (asking permission), Evel decided to try unconventional means. He was more of a beg for forgiveness kind of guy anyway.
    • Evel Knievel apparently called Jay Sarno, the owner of Cesar’s Palace, and acted like a journalist who wanted to know more about a stuntman planning to jump the fountain. The Casino owner didn’t want someone to jump his fountain without his cut of the profits so he called up Evel Knievel. Without recognizing Evel’s voice as the same guy who called acting like a journalist, Jay Sarno asked if Evel Knievel would beat the non-existing other stuntman to the point and jump the fountain in an official stunt.
    • Even more legendary than how he got permission to do it, Evel Knievel’s Cesar’s Palace stunt gave the crowd exactly what they were looking for:
      • Evel cleared the massive fountain out front of the casino but as he came down the other side he fell short of the downward ramp. His bike slammed into the ramp’s edge and his limp body summersaulted through the air and then skidded across the pavement.
      • In the end, Evel had a crushed pelvis, broken hip, broken nose, fractured jaw, broken ribs, and he cracked his melon so hard he was in a coma for weeks.
      • Because he is Evel Knievel he woke up and fully recovered. He woke up and was welcomed with world-wide fame. The media had told the world that the stunt nearly killed him, but he was able to survive.
  • Then came the stunt that I heard about when I was in elementary school: Jumping the GRAND CANYON
    • the idea was hatched in a drunken stupor back in 1966. One of Evel’s buddies jokingly said he couldn’t pull it off and Evel took that as a challenge.
    • For this stunt, our boy was able to get legit permission from the Department of the Interior. But apparently, they approved the request because they thought he was joking. When Evel scheduled a Jump date they realized he was serious and rescinded the approval.
    • Although Evel never was able to jump the Grand Canyon, his son did and he kicked ass doing it.
      • An article from the Guardian written in 1999 said: “Robbie Knievel, son of the motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, became the first person to jump the Grand Canyon on a motorbike when he cleared a 60-metre (200ft) chasm to break his own distance record.”
  • Undeterred by the Grand Canyon fiasco, In 1974 Evel decided to jump the Snake River Canyon in Idaho… it is a 1-mile chasm and he used a custom-made steam-powered rocket that he dubbed the Sky Cycle X-2.
    • Now usually Evel Knievel was known for being optimistic and balls-to-the-wall tough about attempting crazy stunts, but for this he was convinced he was going to die… but he did it anyway.
    • Evel Knievel sat inside a red, white, and blue painted steam-powered rocket and shot himself high in to the pale blue Idaho sky. As he began to plummet to the ground he deployed his parachute which promptly malfunctioned. This malfunction caused Evel to not technically make it to the other side, but it was still a spectacle. I mean, The man shot himself into the sky in a rocket (which had no ceiling mind you) and he was able to survive.
    • Regardless of how crazy I think the Snake River Canyon stunt was, it was the stunt that marked Evel’s downward spiral out of the spot light. Before Snake River, the public saw Evel as the guy who could do anything, but now they doubted his abilities… and there was another factor that contributed to his reputation going sour.
  • While on the 60+ city tour to hype up his Snake River stunt, Evel Knievel had a reporter join him on the road.
    • While Evel liked to be seen as a tough guy who lived a moral life, the reporter saw something different. While touring the country Evel apparently got blacked out drunk all the time, cheating on his wife, disturbingly large ego, quick temper, and a tendency to abuse his wife Linda………
      • I’ve always thought of Evel Knievel as an American Hero of sorts, but if the domestic abuse stuff is real then I may have to rethink that. I expected a guy like Evel to have a huge ego, substance abuse, and anger issues… that doesn’t really bother me. But directly harming someone else, especially a loved one is a step too far.
    • And This article that exposed Evel behind the scenes didn’t sit well with the man himself. He tracked the reporter down and viciously beat the guy with an aluminum bat until he was unconscious. The reporter’s arm was shattered in the beating.
    • Big surprise that beating the reporter didn’t make things go away… After it came out, neighbors and friends of the Knievels were interviewed for a scoop on their home life. Apparently it was no secret that Evel beat his wife Linda. She was known as a kind soul in the area and Evel was looked down upon for how he treated his wife.
      • The thinking was that Evel viewed marriage in a very archaic fashion. He treated Linda like a 2nd class citizen in their home… for 38 years.
      • Again, I wasn’t there, but if all this is true, Evel Knievel subjected that woman to a life of hell for almost 4 decades.
  • Evel known as a womanizer had seen many women, but when he started to sleep with pro golfer Krystal Kennedy in 1992 it would lead to Evel divorcing his first wife Linda in 1997.
    • Just 2 years later in 99′ Evel and Krystal get married… then 2 years later in 2001 they split. 1 year after their divorce, Krystal gets a restraining order against Evel claiming he beat her and threatened her over the phone. Evel was 63 years old… Krystal was only 32.
    • Evel accused Krystal of threatening him with a gun over some jewelry… through all this the couple stayed close until Evel died in 2007
  • Evel Knievel was the world’s greatest stuntman.
    • The dude broke the world record for most bones broken in a lifetime with 433. He set that shit in 1975 and it still stands today.
    • That’s a badass statistic, but not one worth trying to beat. By 2006 Evel needed a morphine drip to keep the constant pain at bay.
    • Evel died of complications from diabetes, alcoholism, a rare disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (excess scar tissue around the vertebrae), and the obvious… countless injuries from a lifetime of stunts. He died in November of 2007 in Florida. His body was taken to Butte Montana for his final resting place.
  • Evel Knievel was an American daredevil who attempted more than 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps. His longest jump was 133 feet long. Some of the more famous include flying over the fountain at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, jumping over busses at London’s Wembley Stadium, and an aborted trip across the Snake River Canyon in a steam-powered vehicle.
On October 15th, 1975 Evel successfully cleared Fourteen Greyhound buses – a distance of 133 feet (40.5 metres). It was the longest successful jump of his career and he sustained no injuries. It was to be the final big jump of his career. Evel Knievel on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, circa 1975.

Thanks for Listening Who’d a Thunkers!

Until next week

CREDIT

7:05

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