Evel One America's Most Famous Daredevil

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Pop Smear Magazine - 1998 - Part 2

The World According to the American Daredevil

by Don Gilbert

"Anybody can take off; it's landing that's tough. I never missed a take-off."

As Bonge referred to, in what appeared to be a practice run for the much-anticipated Grand Canyon leap (for which he was ultimately unable to secure a permit), Knievel took his custom designed Skycycle to a quarter-mile wide stretch of Idaho's Snake River Canyon. The forthcoming act of sheer madness, which had been in the planning stages for seven years, was to be broadcast on closed-circuit television, the forerunner of pay-per-view, in outlets worldwide. An unprecedented media frenzy ensued, which reached its apex when Knievel and his bizarre pocket rocket were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

"I was supposed to get $6 million for it," Evel recalls of Snake River. "I actually only got about three million for the jump itself, from the live gate, and from the closed- circuit TV all over the world. It was promoted by Bob Arum from Top Rank, a great promoter. And I got only about half of the fee, but my toys were on the market then. The toys did 300 million dollars or 350 million. And with my bicycles and all the off-products, I made about 30 million in two years."

After watching two of his test models crash into the river, Knievel announced that he felt confident he could clear the canyon in the remaining one. The jump was scheduled for Sept. 4, 1974.

"I ran out of money, I had to go in the third one. We disconnected all the electrical. We thought that if I handled the parachute control myself that the rip cord wouldn't go off.

"But we had some kind of an electrical failure in it that blew the parachute right out on the launch pad. Too much G-load. It just malfunctioned.

"I had a parachute company that I had worked with for several years, and the engineer who built the parachute system discharged them and hired another guy who ran a parachute company. The guy made a horrible mistake. He shoulda kept the company that I was with in the first place. Their name was Paranetics. They were from El Monte, California."

Knievel seems to have an innate understanding that only a select few people are in a position to share regarding the snide subtext of the term "rocket scientist."

"The drag chute was deployed right on the launch pad," he says. "I'm lucky it never hooked on something and killed me. Christ almighty. You know they make all kinds of mistakes, these rocket engineers. They burned Gus Grissom and two other astronauts to death at Cape Canaveral.

"You know, I'm lucky I never burned to death in that son of a bitch. It was steam-powered. They heated it at almost three thousand degrees. That's the most positive force of any type of fuel for any kind of a vehicle, steam. Even our first locomotives ran on steam. The problem is controlling it and keeping it contained. But steam is more reliable than anything. Pressure-that had so much power it blew boulders out of the ground the size of cars on take off. It was unbelievable."

Before each jump he maintains that his only rite was that he "just said a prayer to God to help me do my best, and that was where I left it. And I paid attention to what I was doing. The only time I ever said a different prayer was when I hit the 'fire' button on the rocket. I said, 'God, take care of me, here I come.'

Knievel cleared the chasm, but the wind caught the main parachute the drag chute had pulled free and blew the Skycycle back over the edge.

"I thought I was going into the river. I thought I was gonna drown, 'cause I was tied in the vehicle with a pilot's air force safety belt-type harness. I was strapped right in. I couldn't have ever got out if I'd gone underwater. Thank Christ the wind blew me into the rocks."

The event made headline news worldwide. Joe Eszterhas, a screenwriter of note, and the prime exponent of brainrot responsible for the laughably notorious Showgirls, filed a 35,000 word article for Rolling Stone about Evel's Canyon jump entitled "King of the Goons." It's apparent that there's little love lost between Knievel and both the controversial script doctor (whom he's referred to as a "cocksucker") and the publication that assigned the story.

"Rolling Stone is a magazine that drug users use. I don't pay any attention to it. I've never read one in my life and I don't want to. They ran an article by a guy name Joe Eszterhas-he's the worst asshole in the world.

"I know people with the networks and in all kinds of reputable facets of the business that consider him a leper. They hate the guy, so anything good he could write would be bad for the person he wrote it about, because he's nothing but a goddamn dog.

"Someday I'll run into Joe Eszterhas, and I'm gonna knock his fuckin' head off his shoulders. He's a worm. He represents the rectum of the world in his chosen profession; he's at the bottom of the list at what he does. And that's not my feeling, that's the feeling of everybody in the country, especially the people at Warner Brothers and Universal Studios."

As arrogant as Knievel comes off as, it's a bit of a stretch to consider that a silent prayer was his only rite of preparation when it came down to the nitty gritty of ripping into a gut-wrenching jump that few humans would have the cojones to even consider, let alone attempt. Knievel allows that his well-known predilection for shots of Wild Turkey may have also had a soothing effect.

"I took a couple before every jump. It settled me down. It wasn't the people. The people never bothered me a bit. I performed before over 100,000 in Wembley Stadium, it never bothered me a bit. 108,000 came to see me, that's the biggest crowd they ever had there.

"It wasn't that. It was what I had to do."

"If you don't have the guts to pull the trigger, you're in a lot of trouble, pal."

The Wembley jump in May 1975 would have much more dire consequences. Knievel appeared for a fee of one million dollars. All he had to do was make it over a row of 13 double-decker city buses.

"Short," Evel describes the effort succinctly. "Gearing was wrong. I had an idiot mechanic with me over there. He didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground. He had the gearing on the bike wrong, and it was too late for me to stop and change it. Harley-Davidson couldn't get another gear over there, across the ocean, very fast. I thought I had what I needed when I left, but those buses are awful big in London.

"So, y'know, I just missed the thing. I couldn't hang on. I never had any suspension on my motorcycle like they have nowadays. But it doesn't matter, you really don't know it till you hit, 'cause you're going so fast-75 to 85. You can see it comin' when it comes head on at you."

Asked to describe what is essentially unknowable for those who've never been in such a situation, Knievel is even more terse. "It's tough," he states flatly.

Knievel's pelvis was completely shattered at Wembley and he wondered whether his body might have had enough.

"You are the last people who will ever see me jump," he woozily told the crowd at Wembley. "Because I will never, ever, ever jump again."

The pull of the domain he inhabited exclusively proved too irresistible, however and Knievel decided it was too soon to hang it up. Five months later he nailed a jump at King's Island in Ohio. The telecast would draw a record-setting audience for ABC's Wide World of Sports, which opened each week with the spectacular wipe out of a ski jumper that seemed mundane compared to what Knievel had experienced.

"I'd been hurt horribly in London, and I came back after I missed it and added buses to the jump. I thought 13 was an unlucky number, I wasn't going to try it anymore."

At King's Island, Evel returned to his spectacular form and jumped 14 Greyhound buses. He admits that retirement was an ongoing consideration, but the lure of challenging himself proved too great. Still, after racking up the series of injuries he'd had, Evel Knievel felt fear. He simply became too aware of the risks he placed in front of himself.

The next major event on Knievel's dance card was in Chicago a year later, where, in a weird and spectacular parallel to his rattlesnake jump of the early '60s, Evel planned to soar over a tank of live sharks, following the summer of Jaws. Evel wiped out and was seriously injured again, as was a cameraman who lost an eye to a flying metal shard.

"There comes a time when you can't pull that pistol out of the holster anymore. You lose your nerve. There's no more fighting in the middle of the street at high noon for you, pal."

Knievel decided it was time to lay back and take it easy. He pulled the curtain on the era of main event spectaculars and made appearances in tandem with his son Robbie, who had been riding motorcycles since the age of six.

Knievel takes issue with the fact that there are certain riders who claim to have broken his Harley jumps by staggeringly exaggerated distances.

"On the Harley I jumped 52 cars in L.A. and I jumped the buses. I jumped a jump in Dallas, Texas, over 13 Mack trucks and completely over my landing ramp.

"The landing ramp was 60 feet and the jump was 130 feet. So that's 130 and 60, it's 190 feet. There's guys around saying, one guy's saying he jumped 20 cars on a Harley-Davidson, and that I never jumped 20 cars on a Harley-Davidson. Shit. I might not have jumped 20, I jumped a hell of a lot more'n that. I've jumped further on a Harley-Davidson than anybody in the world. Nobody's ever even come close."

Knievel flatly conveys his irritation at how things have turned out with Harley-Davidson, now that the company has regained its status as the big kahuna of the American motorcycle industry. His recent encounters with the current Harley administration have Knievel feeling left out. And if Easyriders is printing objective articles about Knievel, one would think Harley would at least give him his due.

"I'm sorry to say because they've grown so large over the last few years that they seem to have forgotten those who helped them when they really had nothing. The racers feel the same way. There is no real personal relationship there anymore.

"They just have a huge, huge company and their new president is not a very outward going guy. I just don't think he's interested in individuals like Bill Davidson was, and like Willie G. was. I've gone to them several times and done some things with them. They've played hardball with me, but they don't know what hardball is-how I'm in the game.

"I put my whole heart and soul in Harley-Davidson, I did everything in the world I could do for them. And I have, for the last 20-some years. And they show no thanks for it at all, so I'm done with it."

Life following the glory days got a bit sketchy for Evel Knievel. The women still flocked around, slipping keys into his palms. Certainly the Kentucky straight whiskey still flowed, he had drugs to handle the pain, and the twin capitals of American hype, Hollywood and Vegas, continued, as they do now, to welcome Knievel with open arms whenever the old desperado strode up their respective Strips. Evel was a familiar fixture in both burgs in the late '70s. In 1977 he starred as himself in Viva Knievel, a drug deal thriller that's become a late show staple. He jumped with Robbie on occasion and augmented what he netted from his personal appearances with income derived from his various other enterprises.

"I was in the jet charter business," he begins. "And one of my jets needed a hot section done on it. A hot section is where they inspect the blades for cracks and stuff. Gates Learjet was in Denver, Colorado. That's a distributor for Learjet. And I had to fly my jet clear out to Denver and back to Florida and that woulda cost me, you know, a lot of money. And my pilot told me that Summa Corporation-which was headed by a guy named Mayheu who ran the Howard Hughes Corporation-had called and said that they had a passenger who was sick and wanted him picked up in Mexico, and that we needed an ambulatory system on the jet.

"So we took out the seats and put in oxygen and they flew to Mexico and picked this guy up and two passengers. And then when they got over Texas they landed at Hobby Airport in Houston. And the fellas that were with him told my pilot that the guy was deceased. So they had the coroner there waiting for him. He was all covered up.

"So they flew on to Denver, and the next morning they read in the goddamn newspaper where Howard Hughes died on this Learjet, 8155 Whiskey, and the pilots were Jeff Abrams and, I forget what the other guy's name was, the co-pilot, but he was on my goddamn jet. He died on the way to Houston on the plane.

"But anyway, I charged Summa Corporation for the flight, so it saved me several thousand dollars for just flying my jet out to Denver and back to Florida."

Concerning a wager which addressed the issue of Hughes' death, Knievel makes no attempt to hide his amusement, which is unusual when the discussion hinges on a subtraction of funds from his own pocket.

"I bet Wayne Newton just a couple of months before that, I bet him Howard Hughes was dead already. And he said he didn't want to bet. I paid Wayne $10,000, but I charged Summa Corporation for the flight, so it wasn't so bad that I had to pay Wayne Newton the ten thousand. You can ask him about it, he'll tell you I paid him."

In 1977 a book about Knievel written by his former publicist so incensed him that he gave the guy a severe beating, reportedly with a baseball bat. The attack led to an assault conviction, and Evel's opinion of his ex-employee has hardly softened.

"It was just because of a jack-off that worked for me. He wrote a book about me that wasn't the truth-that I hated my mother, that I was a drug user. He's full of shit. He's a phony little bastard. I should have killed the dirty little bastard.

"He was a public relations man, a jack-off, that's all he was. His name was Shelly Saltman. He's a jerk, just a lousy little asshole. He's a flesh-user. That's just the way he is, it's just what he is, a rattlesnake."

Evel ended up doing five months and 22 days, but it was characteristically impossible for even that short stretch to simply pass quietly. At one point he found himself sharing the celebrity tier with a sullen Charles Manson.

"Yep, they brought him in, I'll tell you why they brought him in and put him next to me. Leslie Van Houten was being brought up for a parole hearing. That was one of the girls that killed for him, Leslie Van Houten. So they brought him in for psychiatric evaluation from the prison he was in. I forget which prison he was in in California, Soledad or some damn place. And they brought him in and put him in that high-power, I was in what they called the high-power hold."

If Manson and Knievel exchanged a word during their neighborly stay in the "high-power hold" at the Los Angeles County Jail, Knievel doesn't recall it happening.

"I was in there 'cause I chose to be in there," Knievel continues. "I wanted to do my time, I didn't want to be bothered, and I didn't want to listen to all the bullshit in the jail. I found time went by faster in the cell. The sheriff wanted me to be a keep-away prisoner, he didn't want nothin' to happen to me in the jail. So they let me do that, that's where I stayed. There were only six cells in there. You couldn't even see your hand in front of your face when they locked the door.

"I was on an honor farm before that for a couple of months, but they caught me playing golf, so they put me back down in the jail. My buddy brought the clubs up for me, a guy named Jack Swank. He brought 'em out, and my yellow shoes and my green, red and white bag, and I was out in the field hittin' balls and people were stopped along the freeway saying, what the hell's the matter with this goddamn nut, he's out here thinkin' it's a country club.

"Then the sheriff got mad at me, 'cause I got limousines for 25 or 30 of the prisoners that were on work furlough. I got 'em all limousines to take 'em to work. The Los Angeles Times was there and everything to cover it. Aw, what the hell, y'know, they had to catch a bus, so I got 'em all limos. I won some money on a Rose Bowl game, so I spent it on them. I got limousines from Carey Limousines at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I had a good time."

Good times also characterized the period when Evel split a bachelors' suite with Telly Savalas, who was then riding high off his role as Kojak.

"We were roommates for a couple of years at the Universal Sheraton Hotel in North Hollywood. We used to drink together, play golf together at the Lakeside Country Club. He was a great guy, we had a lot of fun together."

After pushing it as far as he could performing dual jumps with Robbie, Evel hung it up for good in 1981. When Evel discusses the old days in Las Vegas, where he spends a good amount of time each year, he admits to a certain nostalgia. And let's face it, he's talking about Las Vegas, hardly the sort of metropolis one gets misty over. And even though he seems naive in his belief that it’s a fairly recent occurrence that everything filters up to the bosses, the atmosphere there still obviously stirs passionate feelings in Knievel.

"The old times were a lot different. The old days are gone from there, when it was really a great town and people were friendly and hospitable. Now, everybody's got their hand out. It's a rip-off. Vegas is a city that has a license to steal from people.

"The old places are all gone now. The Pioneer Hotel, and the joints on the Strip that were great at the time, and the downtown area. There's a few of 'em that have stayed the same, but it's lost its character lately. Just lost its character.

"Nobody ever heard of Caesar's Palace before I jumped it. And they are the most thankless corporation that there is in the United States of America, or possibly the world.

"The man who was responsible for it all was a man named Jay Sarno. He also built Circus Circus and he was gonna build the Grand Tourismo when he died. He was the greatest promoter and the best businessman that ever hit Las Vegas. He was from Texas. Him and a guy named Nate Jacobson, they started the Strip. And Sarno and Jacobson gave me the chance to jump the fountains.

"But the management, the president and everybody they have there now, they're just pissants compared to Sarno and Jacobson. They are just an absolute ruthless group.

"Caesar's Palace is no longer like Caesar's Palace really was, and anybody who thinks it is is a goddamn fool. The only thing that Caesar's Palace has is their beautiful forum, that was built by their last chairman of the board, Henry Gluck.

On the subject of bosses, Knievel recalls that the management installed by the wiseguys in Chicago, L.A. and on the East Coast to look after their interests in Vegas during the waning glory days enjoyed his company and his proclivity for gambling. They showed him respect.

"Sure, they were absolutely good to me. Depending on what you owe 'em, they're good to everybody."

Like any riverboat gambler, and Knievel certainly appears to fit the bill, he gets kicks wagering on pro sports and hustling his friends at golf. His antics on the links are almost as legendary as his exploits on a bike, and his passion for the game may be the one leading factor that ultimately buys him some additional time here. In any case what's clear is that he has no qualms about revising the rules of the game to suit the Knievel style.

"We used to play if it goes in the water it'll cost you a hundred. If it goes in the trap, it'll cost you two-fifty. Unless you get up and down, then everybody has to pay you two-fifty. And we played if you hit the ball in the fairway, long drive-two-fifty.

"And we had a game for a thousand. If you hit a duck while he was flyin', and you killed it, everybody had to pay you a thousand. I got one one time at La Costa-a mudhen. I killed it right while it was takin' off.

"It was a par 3, Knievel remembers. “Playing with a guy named Allen Dorfman. Allen was from Chicago, he was the head of the Teamsters union pension fund. He got shot to death in Chicago a few years ago. I was playin' with him and a couple friends of his from Las Vegas. I hit the shot and it went toward the water. And the mudhens took off and it hit this mudhen and killed it.

"I was losing the game, but they all had to give me a thousand. So I won three thousand on that shot.

"Allen was a hell of a nice guy. Good friend of mine. He was on trial in Chicago, he and a guy named Roy Williams. He got shot six times in the head in Chicago, in a hotel parking lot."

There's something fishy about those last two sentences. It's not that the head of the Teamster's pension fund met with an untimely, involuntary end. No, what's odd is that another recent magazine article about Knievel includes the following sentence:

Bound for the Los Angeles County Jail, Knievel says he was told, "You're gonna be in with a guy named Roy Williams who killed Sal Mineo."

Is Roy Williams some kind of all-purpose villain, the Evel twin as it might be, that causes whatever bad stuff happens to happen? Does Evel know something we don't? Is Satan here on Earth, and his name is Roy Williams? Or is that just the name of that dickhead mechanic who accompanied Evel to Wembley? An investigation is ongoing.

"It's all in the neighborhood you grow up in, pal."

Just the name Evel Knievel is reminiscent of a golden age, not only of Las Vegas and showbiz, but of personal reinvention, when out in the streets and behind closed doors, people were battering the gates of the social mores and political institutions of America on a daily basis. As a prime product of that spirited time, Knievel's a man who's larger than life, which is the reason so many campfire tall tales surround him to this day. You can call Evel anything you want, and he'll go you one better. Way better.

Now his son Robbie's taken over the family business, playing Michael-the brutally efficient tactician-to Evel's inimitable Don Corleone. Evel maintains that whatever feud had been rumored to exist between them is largely in the past, and likes to make the claim that he's not the greatest daredevil in the world, but that he's the father of the greatest daredevil in the world.

"He's a fantastic performer," Evel says. "Robbie jumps huge distances. But, y'know, if he never had the guts to take off from the ramp at speed he'd just never be able to do it. Robbie can jump 250, maybe 300. He does it on a two-stroke that he puts together and builds himself."

Then, Evel adds, in what sounds like a slam against his former franchise, "You can't ride a piece of junk like a Honda. Stock."

A two-stroke, by the way, is a bike with a smaller, whiney engine that burns a combination of gas and oil. A four-stroke runs on straight gas and makes what Steve Bonge refers to as a Harley sound.

Robbie has thus far escaped any sort of the debilitating injuries that his dad has suffered. Evel displays the concern any parent would when the subject arises.

"He's fallen off of that motorcycle in a horribly, horribly hard way. He flipped over the handlebars and landed on his back, and he crashed head-on into the landing ramp.

"You know, everybody says that he can jump so far because of the suspension on his bike. That works a little bit. He's got a little better rear suspension, but not much. A little better. It's got enough horsepower. His motorcycle probably weighs 75 pounds less than mine did, but I wouldn't ride one of those little motorcycles he rides.

"You know, it's like you puttin' a guy on a Learjet. You can get him off the ground, then just turn the plane over to him and say, 'All right, you dumb bastard, now you go ahead and try and land, let's see how much guts you got.' Guy ends up dead, and everybody with him.

"So those great distances that Robbie's jumping are hard to fathom. He's the best in the world at what he does, but he can only jump so far. I'd hate to see him end up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life."

It seems one of the primary differences between the two Knievels lies in their diametrically opposed views of religion. Robbie leaves little question concerning his Christian beliefs; conversely, Evel is vehement in his particular articles of faith. The subject came up during a discussion of Evel's current state of health.

"This hepatitis C that I've got, I got it by accident through blood transfusions. There's 20 million people in America who have it, maybe 40 million that don't even know they've got it. And it's worse than HIV. It's worse than AIDS. It's a silent killer, and our government isn't doin' a thing about it. It's gonna quadruple in the next 10 years. I think people should go get tested.

"And I think that all these so-called Christian people, Catholic people and Jews and

Seven-day Adventists and Mormons, all these people that profess that they're men of God, all these silly-ass preachers...instead of takin' money from their people every Sunday, they oughta give 'em all donor cards and let 'em become donors of their eyes and kidneys and hearts and livers. If you die, you can't take your liver to heaven with you, only your spirit goes. You've gotta leave your liver here to help somebody else live. Now, do you think you can do anything where God'd bless you more? Than helping somebody live?

"So I challenge all of you so-called Christian people and all these believers in God. There's less than one percent of 'em that are donors. Where's their heart at? Why should you give Jimmy Swaggart money? He'll just go spend it on a whore. Why should you give Jim Bakker money? He's just gonna go spend it on some homo someplace. Who knows what these preachers are doin' with our money? They're scam artists; and they're all tax-free. All of 'em, tax-free-the biggest scam in the world, religion."

Knievel prefers to express his spirituality internally. He's never been one to join someone else's organization, not without a damn good financial reason, anyhow.

"I don't believe that, see. I don't believe in God through any false...I don't believe in him through a cow, like people in India do. And I don't believe in him through Buddha, like the Chinese do. And I don't believe in him like the Christians do. I don't believe in God through Christ. If you're only supposed to have one god in front of you, what do want to worship one of those canes for? That's a crutch. I just believe in God, 'cause I think there's a God, that's all. That's the way I am."

An astonishing degree of reverence comes across in Evel's paintings. That's right; Evel Knievel is an accomplished artist who works skillfully in watercolor and acrylic. He developed his technique during his many recuperative periods back when he was jumping.

"I've been able to paint since I was a little tiny kid. Six years old. It was relaxing in the '70s. I painted most of my paintings in the '70s, but I haven't done anything really recently.

"I painted a horse, an Arabian stallion, for Dr. Armand Hammer before he passed away. Horse's name was Patron. And I got quite a compliment on my Mother Teresa painting. The president of Brown & Bigelow, which is a big calendar company in Minneapolis, and one of the biggest greeting card companies in the world, I went to see 'em, they wanted me to do some greeting cards for 'em. And he told me he's never seen anything in the world better than that watercolor I did of Mother Teresa, and he told me that I'd never do anything any better, that it was the best that he'd ever seen in his life."

"I'm walking without my cane or anything. I'm coming along great. I'm riding the motorcycle three days a week and playing golf almost every other day. So I'm enjoying myself. I'm having a good time."

Evel Knievel's got plenty to keep him busy these days, and you have to believe him-largely because you want to-when he says he's having a good time.

A film biography titled Pure Evel is currently in production. "I think it's a real nice compliment, and I think it's about time somebody told the truth about the Canyon jump. It'll be a truthful story. They'll see what I went through."

It's also probably somewhat of a compliment that Knievel will be portrayed by trailer park heartthrob Matthew McConaughey, who Evel describes as "a very nice guy."

Evel's also pretty psyched about the Signature Series that California Motorcycle Company is releasing-there'll be six different models released in editions of 500 each.

"California Motorcycles is a much smaller factory," Knievel says. "Like Harley-Davidson was when I started with them. The California Motorcycle Company is the kind of motorcycle company I like to be associated with. They care about you, they build the best motorcycles they can possibly build, and they're my team."

What makes Evel Knievel a fascinating case study is his relentless salesmanship of Evel Knievel. The reward to be gained in dealing with him more than once is that sometimes he lets his guard down and you get a glimpse of the man behind the mystique. Robert Craig Knievel is the guy you might run into down at the 7-11. His health is kinda low-caliber, but he's got a good attitude about it. He might even be a little scared, and God knows he's certainly earned the right. The following statement was made during the initial conversation with Evel, when his agenda was primarily an unrelenting stream of hype:

"If I'da had one of these California Motorcycles with a turbocharger on it, I coulda jumped 50 cars. Mine's got a turbocharger on it, my prototype."

That's Evel laying it down for you. A few weeks later, when the topic of the big jump came up again, Bob wasn't about to let Evel knock him senseless. "No, I wouldn't jump it, it's too big of a bike."

That's a little insignificant bit there, but that's what makes Evel Knievel a compelling character. Card-carrying asshole, hypocritical jerk or what have you, what's important is that inside Evel Knievel is a person, and like all superheroes that come from this planet, it's his ability to feel life's momentary pleasures that allows that person to breathe. And that person might have fucked up in a variety of ways, but that was entirely his prerogative.

The last thing a warrior like Evel Knievel wants to be felled by is ill health. Evel’s relentless pursuit of stardom placed him in a classic “be careful what you wish for" situation. His equally enthusiastic enjoyment of the rewards his fame brought him have placed his life in very serious jeopardy. While his more than 300 jumps have been called death defying, death has been equally defiant in zapping Knievel with a one-two punch of life-threatening illness, hard on the heels of extensive surgery.

“I just got over a hip transplant, and had my pelvis reconstructed," Knievel explains wearily. “I need a liver transplant right away. And I have hepatitis-C."

Knievel was first diagnosed with this most serious strain of hepatitis three years ago, though he has no idea when the transfusion he contracted it from might have occurred. At that point he was told that he had around five years to live. But along with the liver disease that has placed him on the transplant hot sheet and necessitates his wearing a beeper that will page him when a donor organ becomes available, the illness, which Knievel likens to a “rattlesnake" in his bloodstream, has caused his condition to deteriorate rather quickly in recent months. By his count he’s lost an estimated fifteen pounds and tires quickly during the personal appearances he somehow continues to commit to.

“It's just crept up on me so fast, they say three to six months," Knievel said, referring to doctors’ prognoses of his remaining lifespan. He spent the summer up in the cool air of Montana, far from the swampy heat of his home in Florida, with the maddening presence of the pager, which has been silent to date. There are few liver donors, and from that pool, even fewer acceptable replacement organs. When one becomes available doctors must make a determination which patient is in the greatest immediate danger coupled with that patient’s chances of survival. Knievel doesn’t shy away from discussing the state of his health, but it’s possible that the complications of rejection that might arise from both his infected blood and the recent surgery performed in and around his waist area may mean that the outlook for Knievel is a lot grimmer than even he’s willing to admit.

He hopes to keep enjoying himself until he either makes the leap or goes down swinging. Evel wants to go out like a cowboy, but more than that, he wants to live. And face it, the world will be a lot less colorful without Evel Knievel around.

He made us all wonder how close to death we could come without having to cave in and quit what we're doing on this plane. He taught us all how to be just a little bit braver, proving that there's no dishonor in getting hurt. The shame is in not trying. Evel also showed us that style in and of itself doesn't mean shit without ability; if you can demonstrate what it is you're best at and put your own personal glitz on top, then you've achieved the best that life has to offer.

Don Gilbert is a writer and graphic designer living in New York City whose work has appeared in numerous publications. This is his first article for POPsmear. Contact him at DGinsign@aol.com.