Evel One America's Most Famous Daredevil

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Evel ... interviewed in our store ... Bikeweek '97

Evel Knievel An American Icon

By Sandra Frederick - (5/97)

Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel put aside his golf game in March to make an appearance at Bike Week in Daytona Beach, Fla. The 59-year-old retiree, who makes his home these days in Clearwater, Fla., stopped by the 59th annual event, which draws 500,000 bikers to help Smithfield, R.I., residents Penny and Doug Asermely promote leather goods and accessories bearing his name. Everything from white leather jackets, with red and blue stripes and stars, to posters of a young Knievel.

The American icon also brought with him a V-twin motorcycle, a limited edition (500 available), red, white and blue machine costing just under $25,000. The American Daredevil Limited Edition bike, made by the California Motorcycle Company, bore his name on the gas tank. Later on, the second bike in the series, the Evel Knievel Legacy will be released. It will have a picture of Evel on one side of the tank with Robbie Knievel on the other.

He signed autographs and spoke to eager fans, like Helen Figlewicz of Chicago, Ill. "Who doesn't know Evel," the 22-year-old fan said, holding up her $20 autographed copy of his daredevil movie. And Gene Lawlor, 36, of Albany, N.Y., who was star struck after meeting his childhood idol. "It's just like meeting Santa Claus," the general contractor said. "Only better."

Knievel, whose real name is Robert Knievel, wrote a special message to Joe Rogers, a Marietta, Ga. motor cross racer, who was in a coma for two weeks following a racing crash last year, through his friend Lori Leo, also of Georgia: "To Joe; You are never a failure if you fall as easy as you try to get up." The short but poignant message brought tears to Leo's eyes.

After an hour of signing shirts, posters, cameras, videos, and just about every other imaginable item, Knievel took time to talk to us about the joys and pains of his career, his son Robbie's bright career, and what he is doing in his twilight years.

Huddlin’: Do you remember your first jump?

Knievel: Oh yes. It was in Moses Lake, Wash. (in 1965). I jumped 50 rattlesnakes in a 90-foot box and two mountain lions. I smashed into the edge of the box and all the snakes got out. All the people ran down the mountain. Of course I got away.

Huddlin’: How many jumps have you made over the years?

Knievel: Three hundred.

Huddlin’: What is the most cars you ever jumped?

Knievel: I think it was 20. Now my son Robbie jumped over 30 limos. It petrified me to watch him. I was absolutely a wreck. Like I always said to myself, You have to have the guts to pull the trigger and overcome your fear. You just have to go out and land it. It's a dangerous business and I don't encourage any child to do it.

Huddlin’: What do you think about your son following in your footsteps?

Knievel: I didn't encourage it. I think it is great what he is doing though. I started him jumping at 6. You know, Robbie is the only one in the world to successfully jump Caesar's Palace. Even I couldn't do it.

Huddlin’: Does the Snake River Canyon jump still haunt you?

Knievel: No. Never did. I waited seven years for that jump.

Huddlin’: Would you try it again?

Knievel: No. People talk about that canyon jump and think they can do it. I'll tell you, God hasn't moved that canyon one inch and I don't see any daredevils lined up to jump it.

Huddlin’: How do you see yourself going down in history?

Knievel: I never dreamed the character I created for the "Evel Knievel Daredevil Motorcycle Show" would make these kind of jumps. People who know me love me and to love me is to know that I am not evil.

Huddlin’: Did you ever have fear making those jumps?

Knievel: Of course, but you do it. When you see a kid with a T-shirt that says, "No Fear" you're looking at a dingbat. You wouldn't need a brain if you didn't fear things.

Huddlin’: There's a lot of controversy about how many broken bones you've had in your career. What's the real number?

Knievel: I did an interview with this reporter once and she wrote I broke over 300 bones during my career. That's bull. The Guinness World Book of Records is full of it too. I only broke 30 to 35.

Huddlin’: Who has been instrumental in your life?

Knievel: Many people, but Bill France Sr. (NASCAR founder and promoter) was a special friend to me. I used to try out his new tracks. Never raced in Daytona but spent a lot of time there. Also, Roger Reiman. He won the Daytona 200 (motorcycle race) four times and was an American Motorcyclists Association grand national champion several times. He was killed a few years ago in the old-timers race, the same time my grandmother died.

Huddlin’: Who is the real Evel Knievel?

Knievel: Well, I was raised by my grandmother since I was six. My dad lived in Bute, Montana and I spent a lot of time with him. I started riding a BSA motorcycle at 13 and I hit almost every mailbox trying to jump over them. I worked in a copper mine for three years before joining the Army. I also played pro hockey for the Western (Seattle) and Eastern (Charlotte) leagues. I was married to the same women for 38 years but now I am divorced. I am, however, engaged to Krystal and we travel a lot, to Idaho, Montana and the Pacific northwest. I have two sons, two daughters and seven grandchildren. How's that?

Huddlin’: Many people consider you an American hero. What do you say to that?

Knievel: It's hard to accept. I believe in God almighty. I always prayed before I jumped.

Huddlin’: When was your last jump?

Knievel: King's Island, outside Cincinnati in 1975. I jumped 15 Greyhound buses successfully. Then I knew it was time to retire. I just knew it was right.

Huddlin’: In closing, what are you doing now?

Knievel: Well, my health is not good. I just underwent surgery to rebuild my right hip and to fix my crushed pelvis from the 1968 jump at Caesar's Palace. My left leg was always two-inches shorter than the other so now that's fixed. I have a titanium hip too. After this surgery, it's the first time in 20 years that I am not crippled. I also contacted Hepatitis B from the hundreds of pints of blood I received over the years. There's no cure for it so I live with it daily. I play golf a lot too. Still, I've never been happier.