We Remember “Evel Knievel” On The Day He Passed Away 9 Years Ago Today

Robert Knievel, the young man who would later become one of the greatest showmen to ...

Robert Knievel, the young man who would later become one of the greatest showmen to ever step in front of a crowd, was fired from his first job as a heavy equipment operator after he made an earthmover do a wheel stand and drove into Butte Montana’s main power supply lines, leaving the city without power for hours. Shortly after, Robert was involved in a police chase that ended with him crashing his motorcycle. During his jail visit, the night jailer noted the similarity between Knievel’s name and that of a fellow inmate, William “Awful” Knofel, and bestowed Robert with the nickname “Evel”.

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Knievel embraced the persona and in the mid-1960’s began his career as a stuntman when he jumped over a box of rattlesnakes and two mountain lions. The show was small and only made Evel a small profit, but he was motivated to make his show bigger, so he sought out a sponsor and larger venues in which to jump. He landed a sponsor when Bob Blair, an automobile dealership owner, offered to sponsor Knievel the motorcycles used in his shows. This is also around the time Evel set himself apart from other motorcycle stuntmen by jumping cars instead of animals or pools of water. He would add more vehicles to the jumps each time he revisited a venue as a way to promote the show and get the spectators to come back. He completed many jumps without issue, until July 28, 1967, when he came up a tad short trying to jump twelve cars and a cargo van, resulting in his first injuries: a broken arm and several fractured ribs. However, the crash and subsequent hospital stay were huge publicity for Knievel, which only propelled his growing celebrity.

Perhaps Evel’s most widely-remembered jump was his attempt at clearing the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Rejected by ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Knievel self-financed the filming of the jump, during which he crashed spectacularly, crushing his femur and pelvis, fracturing his hip, wrist, and both ankles and suffering a severe concussion. However, following the jump, ABC bought the rights to the footage of the jump, paying far more than Knievel had asked for them to cover it live.

The broadcast of the jump propelled Evel into popular culture, where he would remain a fixture for many years. Evel Knievel’s jumps would be featured in seven of the ten most-watched broadcasts of Wide World of Sports. He would retire from jumping as the world record holder for most buses jumped on a Harley Davidson – yes, he did his biggest jumps on a 300 pound hunk of steel instead of a lightweight dirt bike with cushy suspension – at 14, a record that stood until 1999.

Knievel would live to be 69 years old, when he passed away form pulmonary disease in 2007. He will always be remembered for his flashy Elvis Presley-style jumpsuits, brazen attitude, and absolute disregard for his personal safety in the name of putting on the best possible show for his adoring fans.


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