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Evel Knievel

Evel Knievel
Evel Knievel in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida,
during the 1970s.
Personal information
Birth nameRobert Craig Knievel
Birth dateOctober 17, 1938
Place of birthButte, Montana
Date of deathNovember 30, 2007(age 69)
Death placeClearwater, Florida
Cause of deathIdiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
Resting placeButte, Montana
OccupationStunt performer
Known forMotorcycle stunts
SpouseLinda Joan Bork (1959 97)
Krystal Kennedy (1999 2001)
ChildrenKelly, Tracey, Alicia, Robbie
ParentsRobert Edward Knievel, Ann Kehoe

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Evel Knievel (c-enˈiːvəl_kɨˈniːvəl; October 17, 1938 November 30, 2007), born Robert Craig Knievel, was an American daredevil and entertainer. In his career he attempted over 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps between 1965 and 1980, and in 1974, a failed jump across Snake River Canyon in the Skycycle X-2, a steam-powered rocket. The 433 broken bones he suffered during his career earned an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of "most bones broken in a lifetime." Knievel died of pulmonary disease in Clearwater, Florida, aged 69. According to The Times writing his obituary, Knievel was one of the greatest American icons of the 1970s. Knievel was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.

Knievel was born in Butte, Montana in 1938 and raised by his grand-parents. After watching a Joie Chitwood auto daredevil show as a child, he took to jumping using a pedal bike, later moving onto motorcycles. As a troubled youth, he earned his stagename after occupying a jail cell next to a man named Knofel, leading the jailer to refer to the pair as Awful Knofel and Evil Knievel (Knievel later changed the spelling of the first name to Evel). In addition to stunt riding at local shows, his early life including a spell in the United States Army at the behest of a magistrate, as well as jobs as a hunting guide, an insurance salesman, while also becoming an ice-hockey team owner and running a business protection racket. In these early years, Evel notably stopped an Elk cull in Yellowstone national park, and staged an exhibition match against the Czechoslovakian hockey team ahead of the 1960 Winter Olympics in California. After moving into sports full time, he had moderate success on the motocross circuit.

Knievel moved into the entertainment business in 1966 by setting up his own daredevil show, initially using a variety of performers and touring several US states, and later converting it to a solo show focused entirely on his jumps as the centre-piece. He came to national attention when he persuaded the owners of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to let him jump their fountain on New Year's Eve 1967, which was filmed for ABC. After a failed landing, he spent 29 days in a coma. On his recovery, he continued to make high profile and lucrative jumps, and began lobbying the government for permission to jump the Grand Canyon. When this failed, he settled on the Snake River jump in Twin Falls, Idaho. Proving to be his most spectacular feat, it became a debacle. Knievel attempted to jump it on September 8, 1974 in the Skycycle, which was essentially an unguided missile. Immediately after launch, the arresting parachute deployed, and the vehicle floated down on the near side crashing feet from the river's edge, with Knievel suffering minor injuries. Knievel then traveled to Britain, and on May 26, 1975, attempted to jump 13 buses in front of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium, again crashing but with severe injuries. His longest completed career jump came at Kings Island theme park in Ohio on October 25, 1975, jumping 14 buses, marking his peak television audience. After this jump, Knievel's jumps became smaller, and he eventually withdrew from doing major shows after cancelling an attempt to jump a tank full of live sharks in Chicago after injuring himself and a cameraman during a practice jump. He instead concentrated on touring with and training his son Robbie Knievel, also a daredevil, eventually making his last jump in March 1981.

In his career heyday, Knievel's nationally televised motorcycle jumps were four of the twenty most-watched ABC's Wide World of Sports events to date. He became a celebrity, recognizable for his use of a Stars-and-Stripes red white and blue "#1" set of motorcycle leathers and cape. On the back of this fame, Knievel gained endorsements from Harley-Davidson and a toy line by the Ideal Toy Company. A 1971 film Evel Knievel starred George Hamilton as Knievel, and he starred as himself in the 1977 film Viva Knievel!. In 1977, Knievel served six months in jail for assaulting his Snake River promoter Shelly Saltman for writing an unflattering book. After this conviction, Knievel's career suffered, causing him to declare bankruptcy. In 1981, Saltman was awarded $13 million in damages, although he was never paid. Knievel later said of his career that he had "earned $60 million, and spent $63 million".

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