Evel Knevel: Reckless Daredevil or Closeted Vegan?

Evel Knevel: Reckless Daredevil or Closeted Vegan?

I’ve gotta believe he partied with Jerry Lee Lewis until Jerry said, “Enough. I can’t keep up with you.”

Answer: Reckless Daredevil of course.

Why anyone would suggest Evel Knevel secretly ate a plant-based diet is beyond me. Although since this suggestion came from me, how can it be beyond me? You think you’re puzzled, think how I feel. And furthermore, is this any way to begin an action-packed story about the daring exploits of Evel Knevel? Clearly I’ve got work to do. First I have to win you back, and secondly I’ve got to write an entertainingly white-knuckled story about Evel Knevel soaring above the earth, if only for a moment, while straddling a fulminating 50 horsepower engine between his legs in a dangerous yet delicate ballet of man and machine. So yeah, I get it. This story would be a whole lot better if it didn’t include my inner dialogue.


But the fact that I meander, digress and can’t seem to get out of my own way says more about the author of this story (me) than any of Mr. Knevel’s audacious feats. Sometimes I don’t know what I like more: Evel Knevel or the idea of Evel Knevel. At this point however, I believe the writer of this piece (again, that’s me) does a great disservice to the King of Motorcycle Jumping by continually inserting himself into a story that’s supposed to be about Evel Knevel. So I protest my own presence here (man vs. himself?) and will try to vector hard towards reigning in my ego and dedicating what’s left of this piece to a celebration of Evel’s daring motorcycle jumps – spectacular jumps in which the King shattered numerous records as well as numerous bones.


More to the Point

Is it just me (my presence is fading now) or did Mr. Knevel undertake his low-success-rate jumps with little planning and even less precaution? He didn’t seem to take much interest in the process. Did he even bother to calculate the precise trajectory needed to jump the 13 buses that stood between him and a broken pelvis? Or did he just glance at the 13 double decker busses he needed to clear and casually figure to himself:

“Hmmm, probably launch around 80 mph. And since I’m in London, I suppose I should jump on the left hand side of the ramp. Oh yeah, and I gotta remember to wear a cup this time too. Alright. That’s enough planning – it’s cocktail hour someplace.”


A Star is Born or at Least Launched

Robert Craig Knievel was born in Butte, Montana on October 17, 1938. Dr. Davidson Harley delivered the slippery newborn who rocketed out of his mother’s launching pad like an orange seed squeezed between the thumb and forefinger. The Evel infant’s parabolic trajectory cleared the outstretched arms of Dr. Harley as he landed a record 12 ft. away into the soft caresses of a very surprised Nurse Culligan.


A family story passed down by Knievel elders (yes, evidently there are Knievel elders) tells of a daring newborn who was disappointed he didn’t reach his intended goal – the cushioning linens in the laundry hamper which was a full 15ft away. It wouldn’t be the last time he fell short on a jump. Nonetheless he did set, and still holds, the distance record for his age group (0-1 minute old). Knievel elders went on to portray the infant’s birthing jump as “epic” and “an act of pure Evel”


I interviewed a Knievel elder (102 year-old Uncle Silas Keogh) who recounted the event with what I think was more than total recall. Here is his high-flying account of the event:

I was invited into the delivery room cuz I was the only one with enough money to pay for the procedure – this still being the Depression and all, and me being gainfully employed as a pinsetter at the Butte Bowl-a-rama. On that day, I did see with my own eyes Baby Evel squirt high through the air. Yup, he shot right through the air like Buck Rogers he did. He easily cleared both stirrups holding my sister Ann Marie’s feet and he even shot through Dr. Harley’s alligator arms before the little incubus executed a full flip and stuck a perfect breech landing (feet first) into the welcoming palms of Nurse Culligan.

Few babies can stick the landing, let alone newborns. But our little ball of Evel had no problem navigating the obstacles before him – like he was born to do this er something. If he were an acorn you’d a-said he fell far from the tree. By the time the applause died down in the maternity ward the boy’s umbilical cord was snipped and the placenta was taken to the cafeteria for who knows what. Nurse Culligan then swaddled our high flyin’ mini-Lindbergh in warm linens and presented the tightly wrapped package to his mother, just like a little chrysalis.

My name is Uncle Silas and I approved this message.


Clearly this l’il performer had stardom written all over him, as well as many layers of really gooey afterbirth. With a preternatural instinct for promoting spectacle, his inaugural “shot from the womb” exhibition of skill and showmanship would be the first of many times he demonstrated more concern for pleasing crowds than ensuring his safety.


Ramping Up Quickly

Now I ask you, is this the face of Evel?

Young Robert Knievel graduated rapidly from jumping curbs on his bicycle to jumping ditches on his motorcycle. He’d jump anything on a dare. In later life this would include bail. But for now he was still a “good” lad having not yet adopted the name “Evel.” As time passed Robert was drawn to ever more dangerous and lucrative performances. To enhance his celebrity appeal, he altered his name by eliminating the “i” in his surname (Knievel to Knevel). To round out the moniker, and because he liked the sound of the rhyme, he changed his first name from Robert to “Evel.” He also carefully spelled it E-v-e-l and not E-v-i-l to avoid any negative connotation with the more Luciferian “Evil” (my words, not his).


I’m Doing It Again

And with that previous parenthetical note, I sort of resurface into the story, but only reluctantly. I really want to make this story about Evel and not about Me. Worthy stories should be about the time-honored forces of opposition: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Evil or, in this case, Evel vs. 13 double decker buses menacingly parked at Wembley Stadium in the heart of London.

I’m doing all I can to recede from the story – which is not much. I still can’t believe Netflix has expressed interest in making this story into a 6-part series.   


What’s in a Name

In the early days Evel Knevel’s corporate brain trust consisted of himself, a spiral notebook (with lots of large emergency numbers clearly written on the front) and his trusty Rottweiler named Weevil Knevel. Together, they contemplated many fast and furious names before settling on Evel Knevel. His estate was kind enough to grant me access to his spiral notebook and right there on page 22, below the Dolly Parton doodle (which, as you might imagine, took up a lot of space – at least 2 cups worth) and above what I hoped was a water stain – young Evel had scribbled a list of possible stage names. The list was fairly illegible and I know Evel didn’t take much to schoolin’, so the possibility exists that maybe Weevil had somehow scratched it out. In any event, direct from his notebook, here is a list of names he considered adopting before choosing the Evel Knevel moniker we’ve since become so familiar with:

Awesome names for me to use in my high flyin’ jumpin’ show

    1. Osgood Pennyfeather III – I like it, but Mattel don’t. Plus Mattel said they ain’t gonna market a daredevil action-figure named Osgood Pennyfeather III
    2. Deviled Ham – I am devilish and I am a ham, but with the name Deviled Ham people might think I belong in a supermarket instead jumpin’ at a county fair
    3. Rocket Man – Elton John beat me to it.
    4. Bad Bad Leroy Brown – Jim Croce beat me to it. Plus, I’m white.
    5. Dances with Danger – Name given to me after visiting the Lakota Sioux Indians
    6. Malicious Alouiscious – Too many syllables
    7. General Mayhem – The Mayhem family won’t allow it
    8. Captain Crunch – Nah. Need to focus less on broken bones and more on the joy of jumping
    9. Evel Knevel – Good name, but will it fly

As his career progressed, and after his Snake River Canyon fiasco, some suggested a more appropriate name for him would be Genghis Con. After the disastrous Caesar’s Palace jump some started calling him Brokeback Evel.


Dressed to Kill…or At Least to Fracture Bones

“I am the world’s most interesting daredevil.”

Remember those non-protective, glitzy jumpsuits EK (Evel Knevel) used to wear? I bet he got them from the same place Elvis and Liberace purchased their performance suits – minus the sequins. There must’ve been a competition amongst the three to see who could get the highest collars and the pointiest lapels. Gotta love the 70’s.


Did this master of disaster ever wear any protective devices besides a helmet and, one would presume, a cup? Having served in the Army in the late 50’s, EK was mustered out with a Yellow-Greenish Discharge. And speaking of discharges, young Evel lost his virginity in the back seat of a ‘52 Mercury. He found it a little later pooled in the front seat. It seems this man had the capacity to jump over anything.


Being ex-military, he identified closely with the 182nd Airborne. In fact by the early 80’s he had also experienced his 182nd airborne…accident that is. EK attempted many jumps that ended in spectacular crashes. He wasn’t wreckless so much as he was reckless.


You’d think a devil-may-care, stunt jumper would be cavalier about wearing helmets, but EK wasn’t. He lobbied hard, and signed on early to California’s mandatory helmet law in the 70’s. And yet here’s a daredevil who had little regard for his body, but plenty for his head. He knew what others didn’t about the necessity of protecting yourself from foolhardy risks.   


The Knevel Brand

I have difficulty envisioning a business meeting where a button-down corporate official introduces himself to “Mr. Knevel” and tries not to break into hysterics. It’s like introducing yourself to Mr. Peanut or Mrs. Butterworth:


Mattel Exec:        Hello, I’m Action-Figure Brand Manager Larry Tate and you must be Mr. Knevel.

Evel Knevel:       Yes, I am Larry. But please, call me Evel.

Mattel Exec:        So you’re evil.

Evel Knevel:       Well no. But I am Evel.

Mattel Exec:        That’s what I said. You’re Evel.

Evel Knevel:       Who’s evil?

Mattel Exec:        No, that’s the guy on first

Evel Knevel:       Who’s the guy on first?

Mattel Exec:        Exactly.



His Career in a Nutshell

Many jumps were scintillatingly breathtaking. Others were the reason he was uninsurable.

The Snake River Canyon Rocket jump deserves special mention.

  1. Special mention (done)

The disastrous Caesar’s Palace fountain jump was certainly epic. It did not go as planned. Of course it wasn’t really planned at all, so maybe it did.

To enjoy the rest of this fearless man’s jumps I invite you to visit YouTube. To understand more about EK I invite you to read The Seven Successful Habits of Highly Hospitalized Men – the book comes wrapped in a cast.  


Final Jump: That’s One Small Death for Man. One Giant Leap for Evel Knevel.

Mr. Knevel is forever enshrined in our thrill-seeking hearts and also in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame (MHoF) located in Pickerington, Ohio – a hall whose bar is set so low that even aging motorcyclists can jump over it. To meet the MHoF’s stringent eligibility requirements a candidate must be able to:

  1. Fog a mirror
  2. Distinguish between a motorcycle and a Big Wheel by Marx
  3. And, most importantly, pay the heavy enshrinement fee

It’s about as difficult to get into the MHoF as it is a Denny’s at 4 am. In terms of spinning the turnstiles, the MHoF ranks just below the Organ Donor Hall of Fame, but well above the Organ Recipient Hall of Fame in popularity. I believe Evel came to terms with the whole “What the hell are we doing here on Earth” thing.

Well into his 60’s he found Jesus Christ even though Christ had been there all along. EK was just too busy building a career, carousing and designing those stylish jumpsuits of his.

One night in 2007 he told his wife Krystal he was, “Going to go jump in the shower.” What she didn’t realize is that the aging daredevil meant it literally. Evidently he made it into the shower safely, but while jumping out he missed the ramp and slid along the floor for 10 feet before coming to rest in the fetal position beneath the towel warmer with the his and her monogramed towels. And even though he was wearing a protective Shower Helmet, he nonetheless succumbed to his injuries.


Like a meteor blazing through the night sky Evel Knevel came to a final rest in Butte, Montana. Knievel elder Uncle Silas, the very same elder who was there at the beginning, was also there at the end. With the Bowl-a-rama granting him a bereavement day off from his pin setting duties, he performed the eulogy with homespun éclat. Here’s an excerpt:


He really wasn’t Evel at all. He’ll always be just sweet little old Bobbie to me. I loved him like a nephew, which he was. He was a courageous boy, he kept his word and he even found Christ, who I heard had been looking for him the whole time. Now I ain’t sure where Bobbie’s going, but wherever it is, I’m know he’ll land on his feet – just like he did  that first day I saw him.  

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