Good old Evel Knievel. He was one of the “staples” of my growing-up days. For those who don’t know him, he was — what they used to call — a Daredevil.
In fact, in the “Daily History” thread, that is exactly how they list his occupation. Daredevil.
These days, the only Daredevil that people associate with, is the unpopular Marvel-Hero-Show on Netflix, which is ending after its third season, staring someone named Charlie Cox. There was also the full-length movie several years back with Ben Affleck. That wasn’t very good either.
Anyway, I’m talking about daredevil in the context of the “reckless person who enjoys doing dangerous things.” The thrill seeker. The mad cap.
This guy. This Evel Knievel would perform incredible motorcycle stunts. And he would always wear a jumpsuit that was all red, white, and blue, with stars, and stripes, and glitz.
But he didn’t start out that way, of course. He didn’t come out of the womb riding a Honda, or a Harley.
Knievel was born on October 17, 1938, in Butte, Montana. Big, big Montana. His birth name was not Evel. No, it was Robert Craig. He was the oldest of two kids. His younger brother’s name was Nicolas. And. His parents were kids of Immigrants. His dad German, and his mom Irish. Robert E. and Ann Marie Keough Knievel.
But that German-Irish thing can be tricky. And Robert and Ann divorced in 1940, after the birth of the second boy.
Both parents decided to leave Butte. And little Bobby and little Nic had to saddle up with their paternal grandparents in Butte.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Butte. But there is not a lot to do there. Working on cars, driving cars, and motorcycles, are a few solid options.
But. Knievel left Butte High School after his sophomore year and got a job in the copper mines. He was as a diamond drill operator. He must have worked pretty hard, because he was promoted to surface duty. Up out of the mine. And that is where he drove a large earth mover.
But it didn’t take long before he got fired. One day he was squirreling around and made the earth mover do a motorcycle-type wheelie. Unfortunately, he landed it right into Butte’s main power line, leaving the city without electricity for several hours. Fired. And with no work, Knievel began to get into trouble around Butte.
Police troubles. In 1956, the police were chasing him and he crashed. Knievel was taken to jail on a charge of reckless driving. And here is the funny thing. The guy in the adjoining cell was named William Knofel — but he went by “Awful Knofel” (“awful” rhyming with “Knofel”). And that is when the lightbulb went on for Bobby-no-more. From that day forward he was “Evel Knievel.” (Rhyme-Time too.) He used the misspelling of “evil” because he didn’t want people to think he was bad.
Over the years, he jumped large amounts of cars, and trucks, all lined up. He jumped the Caesar’s Palace Fountain in 1968. Then in 1972, he “successfully” cleared 35 cars. It was big in the news. However, he broke 93 bones in the process. Not so successful if you ask me.
In fact, I mostly remember him for crashing and breaking bones. The price tag for being a Daredevil.
At any rate, he did a lot of other things. Dying was one of them. On today’s date, in 2007. He was only 69. Knievel died in Clearwater, Florida. He had been suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis for many years. He had trouble breathing and died in an ambulance, on the way to the hospital. In motion.
That is how another story goes. He loved being in the middle of danger. It was the thing he liked to do, and he did it. And. He figured out a way to get people to pay him to take those risks.
The only thing I learned from this story happened in 1970. I decided to imitate Knievel. I built a little ramp for my bike. Lined up a bunch of cans, and intended was to jump over them. I wiped out hard, on my first try. It hurt like hell. Skinned up both my legs. And before I was 8 years old, I knew that Kronenberger didn’t rhyme with anything that needed a helmet.
“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
― G.K. Chesterton
“Keep reading. It’s one of the most marvelous adventures that anyone can have.”
― Lloyd Alexander