The last few months of 2007 were rough for motorcycle legends. After losing Bud Ekins, 77, in October, Evel Knievel, a stuntman of a different kind, passed away Nov. 30, 2007.
Knievel was as much a modern day P.T. Barnum as he was a stuntman, and despite his rough-and-tumble lifestyle he became an American icon and a household name. His face and trademark stars and stripes outfit graced everything from lunchboxes to motorcycles, and one of his old jump bikes, a modified 1972 Harley-Davidson XR-750, sits in the National Museum of American History, where he’s immortalized as “America’s Legendary Daredevil.”
Knievel had been in failing health for years, suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable condition that scars the lungs. He suffered two strokes in recent years and underwent a liver transplant in 1999 after nearly dying of hepatitis C, likely contracted through a blood transfusion after one of his many crashes.
Knievel was best known, strangely enough, for two jumps he didn’t land. The first was his New Year’s Day 1968 attempt to jump the fountains at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Though he cleared the fountains, the crash landing put him in a coma for a month. The second was 1974’s infamous Snake River Canyon jump, where Knievel and his “Skycycle” plummeted into the canyon, bounced off the wall twice and landed a few feet from the river after the parachute malfunctioned and deployed shortly after takeoff.
In 1975, he jumped 13 double-decker buses in London, but a failed landing cost him a crushed pelvis. Evel crashed again in 1977 at the Chicago Amphitheater while practicing a jump over a tank of live sharks. He suffered a concussion and broke both arms, and for the first time, a bystander was seriously hurt.
Though he continued jumping and doing smaller exhibitions with his son Robbie through 1981, his glory days were over. Evel suffered nearly 40 broken bones throughout his illustrious career.
“No king or prince has lived a better life,” he once said. “You’re looking at a guy who’s really done it all. And there are things I wish I had done better, not only for me but for the ones I loved.”
Though he may not have been the perfect role model, Evel was one of a kind and will be remembered for generations to come. For more on Evel, visit www.evelknievel.com.