A Storyville documentary: a profile of the first globally famous stunt performer, exploring the charisma and showmanship at the heart of Evel Knievel's improbable success.
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This programme contains some strong language.
'The following programme is brought to you in living colour.'
TONIGHT SHOW THEME PLAYS
'Tonight we have Evel Knievel...'
Some of you may have seen this film before.
This is a jump that you made at Caesar's Palace. What happened?
The motorcycle landed short,
ripped the handlebars out of my hands
and, er, I bounced for 60 yards into the Dunes parking lot.
God. You're an incredible man.
I know I've been called a lot of things by a lot of people,
-crazy man or conman...
..but when you head down that long, white line,
you better have had major peace with God and you'd better
know what you're doing, because a conman ain't gonna get there.
MUSIC: 20th Century Boy by T-Rex
# Friends say it's fine, friends say it's good
# Everybody says it's just like rock'n'roll
# I move like a cat, talk like a rat
# Sting like a bee
# And babe, I'm gonna be your man
# And it's plain to see you were meant for me
# Yeah, I'm your boy, your 20th-century toy
# 20th-century toy
# I wanna be your boy
# 20th-century toy
# I wanna be your boy... #
I was a member of the Sportscasters Association of Los Angeles.
And we used to have monthly meetings on a Thursday.
Everybody who was anybody came.
Tommy Lasorda, Billie Jean King was there...
Muhammad Ali when he was Cassius Clay
first made his appearance here.
They were legitimate athletes in their chosen professions.
All of a sudden, there was this commotion on Ventura Boulevard.
It was this nutcase going up and down, doing wheelies.
I didn't even know what a wheelie wasn't until they explained it to me!
People didn't do wheelies up and down the road. I mean, that was crazy.
On a real road, on a motorcycle, going 80mph?
Everybody's stopping, going, "Whoa, look at that!"
Even the hard-bitten sports announcers of that day and age were taken aback
by this guy, who of course turned out to be Evel Knievel.
If you'd told me...
that he was going to be world-famous, I would say, "You're nuts."
You know, grandma and grandpa did the best they could do
and he was just rambunctious, I guess.
Maybe he didn't have that attention as a young boy when he needed it.
Truth is, I think that Bobby was kind of angry with his father
because he didn't get to stay with him. That's what I think.
He wanted to be with his father.
We were up at my grandma's house and he and I were wrestling around
and I punched him in the mouth
and he landed on the back of his head and I said, "Bobby?"
And...nothing. I thought, "Oh, my God, I killed him!"
And instantly, he had these wild eyes,
because he knew what had happened.
And across the kitchen there was a door that was slightly open,
the pantry door, and he ran at that door
and slammed it shut with his head.
And that half stunned him again and he turned around,
sitting down, and he pointed at me and he said, "Did you see that?"
"Nobody can hurt me. You can't hurt me, nobody can hurt me."
I think growing up in Butte, Montana,
without a father, would be hard to handle, I would think.
Butte, Montana, was just a tough-ass mining town.
When the mines were going full, the mines were open 24 hours.
There was a lot of prostitution.
There was about 3,000 whores at that time.
It was just miners, drinking and fighting.
You had to learn to cope. Sometimes coping meant with your fists.
You fought, you stood up like a man.
You fought and you were taught that.
And that is part of the Butte credo.
You just don't back down.
Knievel was a fighter from the get-go.
Even during grade school.
He'd get a little obnoxious at times, you know?
You couldn't settle him down.
Well, you couldn't dare him. If you dared him, he'd do it.
I remember when Bob got his first motorcycle.
I don't know why he had two tyres.
He always rode around on the back one.
# I'm a juvenile delinquent... #
You never knew what he was going to do with that motorcycle in town.
I mean, he'd be riding it all over greens and raising hell with everybody.
He liked to have the cops chase him.
You just couldn't catch him on a bike when you were in a patrol car.
# ..always acting bad, so now the teacher wondered
# If I had a mom and dad
# Cos I'm a juvenile delinquent... #
One day, a girl ran up to the store and who's up there
but big bad Knievel, you know?
He was a character. SHE LAUGHS
I was scared, but I was kind of flattered, you know?
"Gee, he's paying attention to ME!"
And then one day he just said, "Ah, you're gonna marry me."
The story is...that he kidnapped her.
Well, I don't know if he kidnapped her or not, you know? That might
have been something that they were planning together anyhow, who knows?
Yeah, I guess I was kidnapped!
I think I was just walking home from school that day
when he said, "Get in the car!" you know?
I don't know... It was just.. Something just...
Almost, like, overtook me and he drove me down to Dillon.
And, um, danged if we didn't get married there.
He had some weird ideas about how life should be lived
and he thought that he should be at the top of the heap. You know?
And think that's why he did the stuff he did, and to make money.
He'd rather there be a shady side to him.
He was happier if there was something a little shady about him.
He made up his own job.
Actually, he started working as a security officer at night.
He had a route where he used to go round at two o'clock in the morning,
three o'clock in the morning, and check all the different establishments.
You'd pay him to be sure the doors were locked and everything
and if you didn't pay him, you might be robbed, you'd better watch yourself.
He broke into my place.
He might have had 40 or 50, something like that, but nothing big.
Yeah, he was in a racket, no question about that.
The police called me up and told me that there was a
known safe-cracker in town.
I knew they were talking about Evel.
He was a crook!
A conman, I guess you'd call him.
At the age of 19, he starts a semi-pro hockey team and convinces
the Czechoslovakian national team to come to Butte to play them.
And the Czechs kill 'em! Like, smoke 'em, 22-3.
But I don't think Evel was that upset about the score.
I think he left in the middle of the second period
and the money disappeared, there was no money to pay 'em, so...
-You know, draw your own conclusions! Where did the money go?
Well, Butte likes people who bounce up against the edges of the envelope.
They're forgiving about some criminal activity.
But they don't particularly like criminals.
He had three kids at the time.
Threw all of his burglar bags in the river
and decided to go straight.
So Knievel gets this job selling insurance for
Combined Insurance Company and it was run by this guy, W. Clement Stone,
who wrote a book called Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude.
I feel healthy, I feel happy, I feel terrific!
I think it really changed his thinking drastically.
I mean, he was that way to begin with and it just intensified it.
He was a legendary salesman.
When he was selling insurance, he was selling insurance and he was selling a lot of it.
Remember, he went to the mental hospital in... Maybe it was Deer Lodge.
And he wrote 271 policies in this hospital, mental hospital.
It was a super record, nobody had ever written that many policies in a week, ever.
And he talked to the president of the company at that time
and said, "I'll break every record in the company,
"every single one that exists.
"And you make me a vice president after I do that."
And Mr Stone says, "Sorry, that isn't going to happen."
Well, Knievel didn't like that.
So he picks up his family and moves to Moses Lake, Washington,
where he gets a job selling Honda motorcycles.
He was making a good living at it, but it wasn't good enough for him.
He says, "I think I need to do something weird, some kind of a stunt,
"so it'll get people to come down here and see the motorcycles."
So he had this crazy idea about doing this jump.
He says, "I'm going to jump over cougars and rattlesnakes."
I said, "You've got to be kidding me!"
Well, my part in that mountain lion jump was, I wore a white coat
like a doctor, and he would introduce me as a veterinarian,
which was a crock of bull, but...
So he brings him down, and...
Put the cougars underneath, and they're scared to death,
they won't come out.
They're like kitty cats.
But the snakes, holy Christ!
We put them in a big refrigerator carton, and they were pissed off.
So he goes around the track, and then he goes up the ramp,
and, well, the minute he went up in the air I could see
he wasn't going to make it, my God, he's about three feet short,
his back tyre hits the refrigerator carton,
the snakes go flitting into the crowd,
talk about people running and getting out of there, Jesus Christ!
The poor guy from Vantage wants us to help catch his snakes!
-Said, "you got to be kidding me!"
And he just rode back on his motorcycle, went up the jump
and waved at the crowd, he didn't...
He didn't care about the snakes!
People started to talk to him, you know, "What can you do next?"
And he started thinking about that kind of stuff.
That's when he came up with the idea of starting a stunt show.
I told him, I said, "They're going to eat you up, boy,
"you'll never make it."
I was a bartender at Marty's Bar in Orange, California.
And this fella comes in, sits at the end of the bar,
and we start talking.
Well, he's a motorcycle daredevil,
and he has jumped rattlesnakes,
and he wants to do a big ramp-to-ramp jump.
He said, "People will go wild."
And he just convinced me.
I was able to get two pick-ups,
a tractor and a 40-foot trailer.
The logo on the side was
"Evel Knievel and his Motorcycle Daredevils."
The name Evel came from his wild years in Butte.
He was given that name by the cops.
He was in jail with a guy named Knofel, and he said,
"Well, better lock up the doors pretty good tonight,
"we've got Awful Knofel and Evel Knievel in here."
He heard that, and he liked that.
He changed it to E-V-E-L
because he didn't want to sound TOO evil.
What he did was get a bunch of people working with him.
Good guys like Swede Savage and Eddie Mulder.
So he started, er...
thinking up different stunts to do.
The flaming boards, we'd soak them in gasoline and light it on fire.
And it'd hit that first board and just go, boom!
And the sparks, the stuff would fly in the air.
And then, boom!
At the second one, sparks were flying, boom at the third one,
hit the fourth one and the fifth one...
Somehow, Bob got this midget...
and talked him into joining the show.
Bob said, "He will do everything I do in miniature."
And he would crash on every single one.
So then it looked like when Bob was going to make his jump,
something terrible is going to happen.
Knievel was such a crazy son of a bitch,
he'd do these stunts, and he never tried them before.
One time he had a motorcycle run at him, about 60mph,
and he jumped up, but he didn't jump high enough.
And the motorcycle hit him and flipped him over.
He was sprained from his waist to his ankles.
I think at that point
is when he decided he was just going to stick to jumping the motorcycle.
The equipment my dad jumped on,
compared to what's going on today,
That thing weighed 500 lbs.
It would be like jumping a dump truck over all those cars.
But he'd do it anyway.
I was the speedometer for Evel - I had to stand there and watch him,
say, "You're going fast enough," or "You're not going fast enough."
I guess you'd call it guesswork.
Bob jumped further and further with each show.
The only thing is,
those stands were not full, not by any means.
How do you convince people to come to a sport they've never heard of?
We were 52,000 in debt.
Bob kept spending money we didn't have.
And that's when I decided I had to leave.
Well, of course, then he saw that he didn't need the team.
He went on his own.
Now it would just be him, looking for his big break.
# Friends say you'll be... #
RADIO CHANNEL CHANGES
FANFARE ANNOUNCER: 'Spanning the globe...'
"Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport!"
Four years I kept singing it in my sleep.
"The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
'..and the agony of defeat.
'The human drama of athletic competition.'
I remember, like, the crazy stuff
that they would show once in a while.
Skateboarding was on Wide World of Sports, I remember that.
'ABC's Wide World of Sports...'
We were in the business of sports theatre.
Sports was drama, sports was a story.
'..the thrill of victory.'
I loved it. I covered some of the weirdest things myself.
As long as it brought in an audience.
America loved it.
'..the human drama of athletic competition.'
Everybody rushed home from church
and watched ABC Wide World of Sports at one o'clock.
That was the biggest show on TV.
'ABC's Wide World of Sports.'
I'd like to introduce to you a most unusual young man.
This is Evel Knievel,
and his specialty in sports is to take a motorcycle up over a ramp,
and leap through the air some 90 feet. That's what he's going to try today, over 15 automobiles.
You're trying 15 today?
Well, the parachute's ready, motorcycle's ready,
and I'm ready, and I'm not going to miss today.
And he's set to go.
He'll build up speed as quickly as he can, and here he goes!
He makes it!
A beautiful leap as Evel Knievel
gets wild approval from the crowd here.
Here we are at this Wide World of Sports,
biggest race of the year,
biggest dirt track race of the year, and I won it.
I won the race, and you think anybody remembered?
They know Knievel.
They remember Knievel out of that whole deal, not me!
And I won 100 laps, rode my ass off.
So Evel got his foot in the door, and now he's going to knock it down.
If you were to think of the most outrageous thing you could do...
..what would it be?
It would be jump those fountains at Caesar's Palace.
I don't know where it came from,
how a guy would go down to Caesar's Palace Strip,
look at the fountains...
What was he thinking, where did that come from?
So Evel wants to do this stunt in Vegas,
but no-one knows who the hell he is.
So he switches into hustler mode.
This guy called every news outlet, told them that Evel Knievel,
famed stunt motorcyclist,
was going to jump Caesar's Palace come Saturday morning.
So then he calls Jay Sarno, the guy who runs Caesar's,
and each time he would call as a different person,
and each time, he would mispronounce his own name.
I told them my name was Larson, I was with Sports Illustrated.
I said, "You ever heard of Evel Neevel?" They said, "Evel Neevel, who the hell's Evel Neevel?"
I waited two more days and called him back and said,
"It's Dennis Lewin from Wide World of Sports, do you know Evel Knievel?"
He says, "Avel Navel, Evel Neevel, Evel Knievel, who is this crazy guy? Everybody's calling me about him."
He said, "I think we've got a deal with him, I don't know, call back!" LAUGHTER
Like a lot of his stunts, Caesar's Palace was one of those
that he'd dreamed up and sold before he even knew it was possible.
And then on the day, he's got the crowds there,
and he doesn't know if he can make it.
He's just got to go for it.
I talked with him for a while before he jumped,
and he was very unsettled about the jump.
You could tell he was nervous.
He was making runs at the ramp, and, you know,
we could hear the motorcycle, and we could hear the crowd.
And then the doorman...
The doorman got on the phone and told us what went on.
It was horrible.
I thought he was... I thought he was dead.
I was horrified to watch my friend look like a rag doll.
I don't think he was unconscious.
But he was hurting,
so off to the hospital we went.
He had a broken wrist, two broken ankles, crushed his pelvis.
And then, somehow,
word gets out that he's in a coma
and might not make it.
He told that story, but he wasn't in a coma.
In fact, I flew down there, it hadn't been but like, two days
since he'd had the wreck,
and he was awake when I walked into the hospital room.
He had all the press come in there and play it up.
"Oh, I'm about to die, I don't know if I'll make it."
Well, this was Knievel, this is what he did. He played it up right to the end.
Pretty soon, the crash footage was everywhere.
We saw him jump Caesar's Palace, we saw that fall,
and his body flopping, and his head hitting and, you know,
all of the agony of that and the broken bones.
That piece of film was amazing, to see him go over and over,
and then roll all the way up to the wall, and...
That's one of the great pieces of footage of all time.
Boy, he was national news all over the place.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
He became instantly famous.
This guy, somehow, had captured what America needed.
He came along at the right time.
There was a certain cynicism throughout the country.
Society was changing.
You had corruption in government.
Well, I'm not a crook.
# When I look out my window... #
The country had been battered
by many years of war.
America was coming apart at the seams.
# Must be the season of the witch
# Must be the season of the witch... #
We were a little down on ourselves.
And along comes this kid from Butte, Montana,
who showed us who we were and wanted to be again.
# He wears red, white and blue
# Stars and stripes too... #
I guess we were looking for some sort of a hero.
We had Superman and Batman and...
But this guy was the real thing.
# ..Evel Knievel's for God and country too... #
Most motorcycle people wore black.
That was what Evel wanted to change,
and that's where the red, white and blue leathers came from.
He wore red, white and blue because he was patriotic.
He loved his country.
He also saw that that would give him a boost to his image,
and people would respect him more.
And he came out of those mountains in a star-spangled suit
with his cane, and he said,
"I'm going to face death."
He opened the door
and invited people to buy a ticket to watch truth.
For that disenchanted, disillusioned generation,
where you didn't trust anybody because even the President lied,
here's a guy, he's going to risk everything.
COMMENTATOR: He did it! He did it!
You know, there was three TV stations back then,
and when Evel was on ABC,
everyone knew it, that's what you did that night is watch,
and that's what you talked about for the next few weeks afterwards.
He was so popular that out of the top 10 rated
Wide World of Sports shows in the 37 years of the show,
he holds seven of them.
-Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel!
Are you scared before a stunt? Do you have fear?
I am not scared.
When I go off that jump, I'd say have some concern,
but I don't think I've ever been afraid of anything.
If I know something's going to happen, I try and train myself
to where I have complete control over my mind and my body.
I relax when I hit instead of freezing up and being scared.
'He said to me one time,'
"You know what I was really good at
"was the takeoff."
He said, "You know what I was bad at was the landing."
He said, "It was the bad landings, that's what brought the crowds out."
You know, Bobby used to say,
"Nobody wants to see me die, but they don't want to miss it if I do."
-And just to go up that ramp and take a look at the distance
that he's got to, in effect, hurdle, aboard his Harley-Davidson machine.
He knew if he wasn't just perfect, though,
when he left that ramp,
something awful was going to happen
between the time he left there and came down way over here.
If he told you he was going to do something, he would do it.
I mean, even if he knew it was going to kill him.
You know, you were always... The question of whether or not...
He might not make it alive.
I would think my dad would die every time he jumped.
It was stressful, it was hard on us.
If he crashed, you know, and got hurt, then he'd go out,
and he was going to do it again, and everybody says he's nuts,
you know, he got hurt the last time.
EVEL: Doctors, especially surgeons,
have been amazed at how I can keep going.
..recuperative powers that were beyond normal people.
They would say, "You'll have this cast for eight weeks,"
and he would take it off in three.
-This may look like just some abstract plumbing.
This, actually, is the right hip and right femur of Evel Knievel.
I think I've probably become immune to pain.
I've learned to live with pain for so long that I think...
what would hurt an average person doesn't hurt me so much.
When we were growing up and my dad broke bones and he was in pain,
he never bitched about it, he never complained about it.
No, no, I'll be all right, I'm going to jump some more.
It was just, he accepted that that's what he had chosen to do,
and it was something he had to deal with,
and that's the way he dealt with it.
To be something a little extra special,
no matter what I want to do, if I like to do it,
to be a champion or to be the best,
even though I've been hurt so many times,
and live like a lot of people do that live in a...
..a grey, twilight world -
these kind of people, they don't even know victory or defeat
because they've never tried anything, and...
this is something that I feel compelled to do,
and I'm going to do it.
I had sort of been brought along the way of a teen idol.
I had enough star power going, but I kept trying to toughen up my act.
I thought, "God,
if I could get a really good Western or I get a good action movie..."
And I was looking for sort of a modern day Western character -
who would that be?
I remember seeing the footage from Caesar's Palace,
and I thought, "Yeah, that's the movie."
In my mind, there was only one guy who could do this right.
John Milius - he'd written Dirty Harry, Jeremiah Johnson,
and of course, later, Apocalypse Now.
Milius just wrote it as though he was writing it for pat.
It had this sort of mythic sound to it, you know?
And it's got this man who thinks he's a gladiator.
And I was excited to show Evel this.
So he tells me to come meet him in Hollywood
at the Saharan Motel that was up on Sunset.
He's been up all night.
Got another huge wound, Kotex pads all there,
and he's lying there like a pasha in a bad motel.
And that's when it all got crazy.
He took a bottle of Wild Turkey, and I heard the snap of the Turkey,
and he drank half that thing down and he sat down.
I said, "I want to tell you that we've got a great script,
"I just brought it to you, and I want you to read it." He said, "You read it."
I said, "Well, I have read it, and I really love it, I think it's great."
He said, "No, I want you to read it to me."
And I just didn't want to read the script,
I mean, it was just crazy, the idea of me reading the script to him,
but he was dead serious, and I saw this gun.
And he put it right to my head.
And I thought, "He means this," you know, this is really real stuff.
My performance on reading that script was the best I've ever given,
and I probably should have got an Academy Award.
Ladies and gentlemen, you have no idea
how good it makes me feel to be here today.
It is truly an honour to risk my life for you. An honour.
Before I jump my motorcycle over these 19 cars,
and I want you to note,
there's not a Volkswagen or a Datsun in the row...
Evel was not happy with it, I don't believe.
From what I understand talking to him,
I don't believe he was at all happy with George Hamilton.
I don't think Evel appreciated me climbing into his leathers
and getting on his motorcycle.
But what happened is, by osmosis,
when he went to see it in the theatre, when it came out,
he was saying these things, and they were extraordinary words
coming out of his mouth that John had written for him.
They told the Wright Brothers flying was impossible,
and they probably told Neil Armstrong walking on the moon was impossible.
They said Shepard and Glenn would never get round the world.
They said Armstrong wouldn't step on the moon.
He was using a writer's words,
and this is the Evel he's become.
I'm all alone when I jump those ramps.
There's only two things that keep the rest of them from doing it,
and that's fear and that big hole in the middle of them.
As long as I can stand alone and be the best at what I'm doing,
I want to continue to do it.
He created a character named Evel Knievel,
and then tried to live the part.
He never broke character.
He had the Evel Knievel persona,
and that's what he presented to the world.
We don't want guys in grey hats, we want black and white.
Evel represented that.
He definitely thought of himself as the guy in the white hat,
the good guy.
If I look like I'm rigging up for a trip into outer space,
Nobody should ever ride a motorcycle without a helmet.
I never do.
He was, er...
Somebody who was seeking what many of us do in our own way,
and that's recognition, and...
If you get into his background, you can understand that.
He wanted identity, he needed that.
He just wanted to be loved.
MUSIC: Show Me The Way by Peter Frampton
# I wonder how you're feeling
# There's ringing in my ears... #
EVEL: Thank you very much.
Believe me, it's a pleasure to be back here in Portland, Oregon,
and on behalf of my sponsors, the Mack Truck Company,
the Harley-Davidson Motor Company,
and the Train and Steam Company in Milwaukee...
He invented the licensing business.
I mean, how many people can you think of
that had their names on products before Evel?
I mean, there was a few.
But he really elevated the art of the licensing business.
Yeah, he had a deal with everyone, Mack Truck, Harley-Davidson...
But that's not the one I remember.
-This is Evel Knievel and his stunt cycle.
He is the only rider to do so many stunts, mid-air somersaults...
Evel Knievel has become a legend in his own lifetime.
When Ideal came out with the Evel Knievel toy,
the president of Ideal called me aside and said,
"This is going to be a really big item for us."
-It's the new Evel Knievel rally!
For me, there was only one action figure when I was growing up,
and that was Evel Knievel.
It was as cool as you could possibly get at the time.
Came with a motorcycle you could wind up...
You wind it up and you stop and it takes off...
-The Evel Knievel stunt cycle comes with figure,
winder, wheelie stand and front flip bar.
New from Ideal.
The toy sold out.
I would say he made more money off the Ideal toy
than he did off any of his jumps.
One time, he showed me two royalty cheques,
and both of them at that time were half a million dollars each.
Both of them. Two cheques.
I said to him, "Well, you made it.
"You're on the pinnacle.
"You said you were going to be a millionaire. You ARE a millionaire."
It was an amazing time.
The money was rolling in by the millions.
Everywhere he went, he went first class.
Yeah, my dad liked to spend money.
All of a sudden, there's five Ferraris, two Lear jets,
five other aeroplanes...
He'd get a boat, oh, he needed a bigger boat, oh, how about a yacht? How about another yacht?
With helicopters on top!
He's got "Evel Eye I" painted on the side of it.
-TV ARCHIVE FOOTAGE:
-He's no easy rider.
He's proud of the material things his money can buy.
His Cadillacs, his 140,000 luxury imported van...
He took me into his office, opened up a huge safe he had,
and there was a gold-plated full-sized motorcycle.
But do you know what?
You could hardly see it cos it was covered with cash,
like it'd been thrown in there like confetti.
He built a big, beautiful home on the 18th green,
with this huge iron gate
with a great big "EK" right in the middle of it -
it was the actual handle.
For Butte, Montana, that was the stuff.
I am risking my life for it, I'm going to spend every damn dime!
Yeah, my dad had an affinity for clothes.
He liked to dress with flair.
He'd walk into a store and see a sweater he liked,
and he'd just buy one in 20 colours.
Come with me and I'll take you on a tour of my office
and dressing room and show you what you can buy with a few dollars
if you're willing to jump a motorcycle over 19 cars.
Evel was very flashy.
Walked with a cane with diamonds in his cane,
and his jewellery had diamonds, and he had gold all over.
He always loved Elvis, and they traded the belt buckle and the cape.
My dad was a big fan of Liberace for being a showman.
All the money in the world can't buy your way into heaven, it can't buy
your way out of hell, it was made to be spent right here, and I...
I'm going to have the best clothes, the best boots, best diamonds,
best cars, trucks, motorcycles, booze and women
on the face of this earth, just as long as I can keep going.
When he came into money and fame and fortune, it's like,
the women became almost an equal part of his thrust from day to day.
Part of it was that women were extraordinary attracted to him.
I know, because he and I would go out drinking once in a while and...
hell, they'd line up, and he'd pick the prettiest one.
He's unbelievable! He's got more fire in him, he's unbelievable!
He turned the hat-trick half the time, cos I'd see him do three a night for a week when I was there.
Come on, I mean, back to the '70s.
Every woman wanted somebody like that.
I was always mad, cos he was...
maybe cheating on my mom.
# I'm the other woman... #
Belinda was aces.
I mean, she was the nicest woman that he could have ever married.
She stood by him, and a lot of times, he didn't treat her right.
EVEL: Hi, good looking.
-You going swimming again?
He didn't hide anything,
and that's probably where I'd get a little upset with him.
He'd come home with a little lipstick on his collar,
and I'd get a little ticked off.
I'd like to take you out to dinner
somewhere in a real nice quiet little spot.
Get you swacked and take you home someplace!
# ..and you know who was first... #
I'd think, "I married this guy!"
I don't know, I just...
You don't leave that man unless he wants you to.
Say I died and landed in heaven, so I'm there, OK?
And I'm sitting there in a white robe on a hard marble slab,
next to JFK, Martin Luther King and some Pope, and what the hell
would Evel Knievel have to say to any of those three guys?
I couldn't carry on intelligent conversation with them.
I want to go to my own kind of heaven.
It's got draft beer that doesn't make you fat.
It's got a lot of beautiful girls like you running around,
and my wife won't get mad if I go out with any of them.
He was OK before he became Evel Knievel, and then, you know?
People just can't handle that fame, some of them.
He was a...
small-town guy from a small town.
Really in the span of seven years
became one of the most famous people in the world.
I think that he...
He forgot how to be Bob.
And when he became Evel...
It's like the world took him away from us.
If you want to be in this business and be the best in the world and wear a red, white and blue
number one on your back, you have to be man enough to handle the consequences.
-King of the daredevils, number one,
Evel was on top of the world,
but he was starting to lose his grip a little.
And that thing with the Hells Angels didn't help.
Evel was at odds against the Hells Angels and the biker image.
He used to talk about the Hells Angels a lot.
Always putting them down.
They're murderers, thieves and drug dealers.
I mean, these guys are dogs. They belong in penitentiaries.
Must've got through to them, you know, they got pissed off, and...
San Francisco was one of their main areas.
The announcer was the guy that started the whole thing.
When he introduced Knievel, he says,
"If Knievel makes this jump tonight,
"he's going to set the Hells Angels back 100 years."
Wrong thing to say.
He barely made that jump, came back around,
and I notice a couple of Hells Angels have come out onto the floor.
And this Hells Angel grabbed him. Well, I'm...
The Hells Angels threw him down, just when I got there,
and I give this guy a body check, and he folded like a, just...
Well, and then the war started, you know?
Hells Angels come boiling over there,
and the people come out of the stands and started beating on them.
They put two of those Hells Angels in hospital.
After the Cow Palace incident, Evel got a little bit paranoid.
He said, "Do you have a gun?"
I said, "Yeah, I've got a couple of them."
"Well," he says, "Those Hells Angels, you never know,
"they're going to walk in here with a shotgun, and I've got to be ready for them."
-Watch that right shoulder.
Broken right there, the right collarbone.
-Are you ever afraid?
If I am, I'm not going to tell you about it.
-I've been concerned.
I'm Evel Knievel, honey, I'm not supposed to be afraid.
He was constantly being tormented with the thought of, you know,
"You're not going to make this one, you're going to die at this one."
And so he's doing everything he can through alcohol,
through being flamboyant, through being...
You know, crude or whatever,
to get these thoughts out of his head.
But they were eating his lunch.
You know, Evel, you're shaking a little.
Well, if you did what I did, you'd be shaking, too. LAUGHTER
I could see it in his eyes sometimes, when he'd come back by
to ask me if he was going fast enough,
I could see the fear in his eyes.
I knew he was scared, but...
he would never...
He would never say no, you know, he'd go ahead and do it.
The medicine that he was taking,
the drugs he was taking for his pain, plus he was drinking...
He became just...
schizo, I mean, paranoid.
He got paranoid about protecting his stuff,
paranoid about who he let in, and...
We'd be talking, and almost as if he was schizophrenic,
he'd flip and become ugly about things.
I had to stand two guys down,
who wanted a piece of him,
and they wanted a piece of him
because he was being an asshole, he was being a jerk.
I'm the guy who just...
You know, was trying to keep the peace.
I'm the guy protecting the troublemaker from the good guys.
You know, and I thought, "I can't do this."
It's really interesting when you...
You are a man like Evel Knievel, and you've created this myth.
And once you're defined, it's hard to live up to it.
He was always reselling what he had already sold.
How do you get any better than that, how do you get any bigger?
Throughout his life, he was insatiable.
Even when he was the most famous daredevil that ever lived,
he wasn't satisfied.
He had to make another half a million dollars on a jump.
He had to find one more woman prettier than the last.
He couldn't satisfy himself.
He had to do something else.
He had a friend that, er...
They were at the bar talking, and, er...
This fella just made a comment, "What's your next thing?"
I think he said, "The Grand Canyon?"
Well, of course, that started the wheels a-turning.
One of the favourite pictures of my dad,
he's on the rim of the Grand Canyon,
and there's these two Navajo chiefs there,
and my dad's pointing at the other side of the Grand Canyon,
and they're just, like, looking at him, like, "This man is crazy.
My dream was to jump the Grand Canyon.
The Secretary of the Interior told me that I could.
I took his word for it, then he changed his mind, so...
I told him to go get hosed, and I'll buy my own canyon.
The Snake River Canyon in the state of Idaho.
And the only way they're getting me out of the air is to shoot me out
with an anti-aircraft gun, because I am going to go, believe me.
-The jump across the canyon will be approximately a mile.
It's somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 feet to the bottom.
As you can see, Pete, this motorcycle is unlike any motorcycle you've ever seen in this world.
These rockets put out about 90 lbs of thrust apiece.
Knievel's original concept was to take a motorcycle,
put a rocket on it, and that's impossible.
And so the necessity just required that he make a rocket vehicle.
Our partner was Bob Truax,
and he was known as the father of steam rocketry.
And that was our answer for getting Evel Knievel over the canyon.
Basically building a hot water tank and uncorking it and letting it go.
This machine is powered by steam.
Steam is the most reliable source of power we have in the world,
and it'll go from zero to 350mph
from a dead stop in eight seconds flat.
-The super-stunt, billed as the death-defying event of the century,
will be viewed by almost two million people,
most of them watching on closed-circuit movie screens.
I'd like to say to you what Evel Knievel says wherever he goes,
and whatever he signs.
If he were talking to you right now, he'd say,
"Hey, Jim. Happy landings."
When there was an event of any magnitude during that period,
I'd probably get first call to do the promotion.
I remember, first time I saw Evel Knievel,
he showed up on Ventura Boulevard doing wheelies on his motorcycle.
That's when I first met him.
But I really didn't know him till we did the Snake River Canyon jump.
I had control of the publicity and promotion.
'For a brief moment in our dull, mundane life,'
Here is a man who vicariously we can live through.
I thought what he was doing was exciting.
So it's never had to sell something you believe in.
And I believed in it.
We did a 30-day tour, which was my idea,
to do press conferences at, like, literally 90 airports.
-When Knievel flies into town each day in his two Lear jets,
his pilot, Watcha McCollum, and his co-pilot,
wear crimson crushed velvet dinner jackets.
You ought to see our socks and underwear.
Every day was a...
Was a party.
There were close to 2,500 press credentials given out.
It was bigger than any Ali fight, and I did them all.
Bigger than a presidential entourage.
Don E Branker was in charge of all the logistics.
I was a concert promoter, I did acts like the Stones, The Doors, The Who,
and then Evel comes along with a pay-per-view, closed-circuit...
You know, this was the biggest event of its kind
in the history of entertainment.
The unknowns were magnificent.
-This Sunday, a daredevil hustler named Evel Knievel
will try to cross a canyon in Idaho, riding a rocket.
If he makes it, he'll be many times a millionaire.
If he doesn't, he'll be dead.
He was a hero of mine in many ways.
I was a little crazy, he was a whole lot crazy,
and you just had to dig his courage.
It just didn't seem to me that courage would be enough.
I'm telling you,
it looks a lot further than I thought a mile would look.
It was the kind of stunt where you would actually see, probably,
a guy kill himself.
It was so audacious, it was so daring,
it was so almost impossible in many ways, but for his confidence.
What about the G forces?
I mean, when you start something that's going to be going at 350mph,
-aren't you going to be knocked out, almost?
I wake up, see the other side of the ground way over there,
wherever the hell I'm at,
and I'll pull the ripcord and open a parachute behind the Skycycle.
Are you saying you're going to be unconscious when you're in the air?
-To 2,000 feet, I probably will be, yes.
-So that means you have to regain your consciousness?
That's right, but I can do that. I'll do it.
Evel had no training.
He had no training for pulling Gs,
like a centrifuge, or even in an aeroplane.
Zero parachute experience.
He had a dead stick kind of thing, where it was spring-loaded,
and if he passed out and let go of the handle,
the parachute would come out.
-There were actually three of the steam powered Skycycles built.
The original, called the X-1, was tested without a pilot about three weeks ago.
It ended up at the bottom of the canyon.
That was a test shot. We made some mistakes.
If I'd have been in it, I'd have ended up dead,
but I don't think that's going to happen.
What the press did not know is that the first one was designed to fail.
We purposely underpowered the rocket
so it wouldn't make it to the other side.
He wanted it as a promotional thing,
he wanted it to crash in the water and let people see that.
Eventually, we did convince Evel to do a real test,
but he'd only do it if it was done in secret,
so the press wouldn't get any pictures of it or anything.
We thought it would make it.
But there was a problem with the parachute - it deployed early...
..and it also landed right in the middle of the river.
Knievel was there to see that.
I saw it,
and I was wondering at that time what was going through his mind.
I was thinking to myself that he maybe was looking at his mortality,
and thinking, "You know, this might not be such a good idea."
However, give him credit, he was going through with it.
At this point, we're batting zero for two,
and the world is watching us, I mean, I felt that.
-Can you make it?
You will, you will.
He became more and more surly.
Screeching orders at everybody that he could, belittling the...
He'd belittle little people. He was just mean.
About a week out is when we started sensing things
not going our way with the press, cos the press is up here living now,
and the press started seeing the real Evel.
Do one thing for me.
I do not ask for your respect, I demand it.
Shelly gathered everybody around Evel's trailer, and says,
"Why don't you just have him stand up so we can see?" You know?
Cos there was a big crowd of people there.
Evel heard that and came out, and...
-I said have a smile on your face.
-I don't smile at anything.
All right, get him out, out.
Go on, get out of here.
That's when he came down the stairs with his cane,
and he grabbed my camera, and he's a pretty strong guy.
And...grabbed my camera, started pushing me back,
and whacking me and the camera with his cane.
Are you going to apologise to that cameraman for roughing him up?
I wouldn't apologise, and if I see the little son of a bitch again,
I'll throw him out of here, how's that?
As hard as we tried,
a lot of Evel's true temperament came out to the press.
-I think you should apologise.
-Well, I want to straighten you out right now.
Number one, I was in the Skycycle all day.
Number two, you are a guest of mine in my press area,
do you understand that? And so was he.
Number three, when I've been up there all day
and that blood's come out of my legs and my feet and gone to my head,
and I come down to want to get some rest and get along with you people,
you don't tell me to come out and stand up and smile.
If I want to come out and try and get along with you,
you should at least allow me to sit down and smile,
so tell him I said to kiss my ass!
There was a point where we were all kind of sitting around and saying,
"You know, the guy's a jerk. He's just a jerk!
"He's a bully, he's a boor.
"What are we doing here?"
The rest of the press can now thank you, because I'm going to leave.
How's that, boys? Sayonara.
People started coming in, and it started getting crazy.
Every biker in the United States who didn't have a job was there, I believe, you know?
We had umpteen different motorcycle groups,
you know, none of which you'd invite to your house for dinner.
They have a good time, everyone's just loose around here.
You could say it was like Woodstock,
but the evil twin of Woodstock.
It was, like, not happy flower children sitting around in the rain.
Those guys were... I mean, they were really rough.
Wackos with tattoos all over their bodies,
drinking beer and screwing in public and all kinds.
It was bedlam.
Roach clips, papers, hash pipes, come get 'em while they're hot!
They had a marching band from Butte High School that was there.
not a place for a Butte High marching band to be that day,
I'd have to say!
Right when we pulled in, there was a man and woman naked, you know,
having sex, right there under a tree.
I saw all the people that were drinking and smoking pot, and...
..they were pretty wild.
MARCHING BAND PLAYS
We fired up the band,
it's like the whole place...
Oh, the crowd went wild.
Yeah, absolutely. They were totally prepared for a celebration.
The crowd just started mingling,
wanted to play our instruments,
they tugged and pulled,
and the next thing you know, we're separated,
a good hundred yards away from the rest of the band.
So we were basically fighting for our lives,
as far as I was concerned.
At that point, they just stuffed my tuba full of everything.
Beer bottles, popcorn, peanuts, rocks,
I pulled a bra out of there...
It... I never played a note.
We also had with us the drill team,
and the drill team's name was the Purple Bees.
And a good friend of mine, they tore her dress right off.
Totally tore her dress off.
I guess we all thought of this as something different
than what it was really going to be.
The crowd were given beer,
and when the beer was closed up,
that's when it got kind of rowdy.
They actually rolled the beer trucks over, the semis,
over on their side, shot the locks off,
and everybody was walking through the camps with cases of beer.
Next thing you know, they took the outhouses, they took them down,
and started just dumping them over, and they lit them on fire.
The place was absolutely out of control at that point.
Things got as bad as they could get without somebody dying.
It's as simple as that. It was as bad as it could be.
I can hear, out in the darkness,
I can hear the girls being raped, I can hear fights going on,
I can hear gunshots going off, you know, but there's nothing I can do.
I reached a point when I said,
"You know what, I'm going to call the National Guard in."
So I called them up, and he said,
"Don, I'm sorry, but our men are split up,
"and I just can't come out there to help you, you're on your own, son."
And I hung up that phone, and I felt like crying.
-There are more than 33,000 paid admissions.
As you can see, they needed control, they were perilously close
to the edge of the canyon, some 600 feet straight down.
What I was concerned about is that there is this canyon,
there's this killer canyon in front of you,
and they've put up a standard cyclone fence,
I mean, just push it and it would fall off.
And I thought to myself,
everybody's going to rush to the edge of the canyon
to see what happens.
And you're going to have people pushing from behind,
and like lemmings in the sea,
they're going to go right over the edge.
I thought it was pretty ironic to have Don solve the security problem.
He went down where the Hells Angels were camped,
and hired them to come up and provide security for us.
I went and I explained what I'd do, "Here's what I'll do.
"I've got 1,000 in cash, and I want you to guard the fence
"and keep the people on that side of the fence."
And the guy said, "Are you bullshitting me?"
I said "Am I going to bullshit with you guys?"
"OK, you've got a deal, mister."
BAND PLAYS AMERICAN NATIONAL ANTHEM
On the morning of the jump,
I looked at him,
and I saw a very pensive,
very quiet man.
He didn't look comfortable.
I don't know why he WOULD look comfortable,
climbing into a tin can to fly over a canyon.
-There is Bob Truax himself, the chief engineer,
testing the wind.
The 50mph wind was not the right direction.
We recommended to Knievel he delay the launch.
I just said, "You know, Bob, I don't think you ought to do it, you know?
"I think this is crazy, I think this thing isn't going to make it."
He says, "I can't back out now, too much has been said,
"they'll call me a coward."
He says he's not going to do that. "I'm going, and that's it."
I've got a team behind me with Mr Truax and all the boys that are 100%
and I think we'll do it.
I wish the wind wasn't blowing so hard, but I think we'll do it.
There was no braggadocio, there was no bravado.
As the time counted off, he'd said to his family, "Let's pray."
I remember when my dad brought me in the trailer, in the...
..truck. The whole family.
And he hugged me and says, "I love you."
He didn't know what was going to happen.
He was like, "God, take care of me."
Linda and the children were crying.
Especially the little girl.
Yeah, that was a very sobering moment.
You know, suddenly I realise,
"Have I had a hand in getting a man killed?"
-There he goes up the ramp
toward the launch site and toward the vehicle
and he is being introduced to the crowd now.
I've never been afraid in my life of dying.
I think that man was put here on Earth to live, not just to exist.
And today is the proudest day of my life.
I'm living a dream
that they thought could never be done, but it'll be done.
And then, instead of a roar,
a silence, like an eerie silence,
fell over the crowd, cos this guy
truly might be going to his death.
DRAMATIC WESTERN-STYLE MUSIC
Evel got out of the crane and into the Skycycle
and the whole time, patriotic music is being played
and at that time, even I got emotional a bit.
We strapped him in and got a couple of pictures of him
in the cockpit.
He looked a lot different than he did when he started this project.
His hair was grey and he was real serious.
We had a big clock - ten seconds, nine seconds...
You look out at the audience - no-one's even breathing.
-..three, two, one...
Immediately, something failed.
It went down like a bullet.
-There's a fire.
-The main chute is out, there she goes.
It's going to crash.
It's just cleared the rocks.
David, I can't see anything.
I had my camera. I'm taking - click, click, click, click, tsssh! -
right into the canyon.
I turn around and the first fence just goes flat.
Just - shwoop!
It was a stampede, is exactly what it was.
I saw bikers pluck people out of the sky.
It was right out of a movie, you know.
-Robert Craig Knievel
appears to have landed in the Snake River.
Evel definitely tried to get out, but he couldn't.
David, I am very scared.
I thought, "He's gone.
"We're not going to get to him in time, he's going to drown."
There was people running up and looking over the edge.
Linda was scared and the boys were scared.
I thought my dad was dead. I was screaming, crying.
I get into my helicopter, get over the canyon and there,
from the muddy banks on the side of the river...
..was Evel waving and I said this -
"Thank God that son of a bitch is alive."
-Evel Knievel is standing in the boat and waving.
He is alive and well.
I know the well-wishers are anxious to support that helicopter.
Evel's off, he's on the ground now
and he's being mobbed now by the crowd.
I don't know what happened, Dave, I don't know what happened.
It's just, I think... I don't know, I just can't say.
I'll have to let Bob and the fellas examine it.
Bob, what happened?
Well, this right here is the cover to the parachute canister.
It obviously came loose much too soon, right on the pad.
What had happened is, as it went up,
I knew immediately that the chute had been deployed.
It came off because of a mechanical problem with the design.
You didn't do a damned thing wrong. The can is still on the thing.
-It blew off right there on the launch.
-Blew off by accident?
-It was our fault.
-It's not your fault, it's...
We should have run one more test.
It was clear to me, or to us, that it was a mechanical failure,
but there was another story being bandied about back at the press tent
that perhaps Evel had released the chute early.
I told people that that's what happened.
When I went to the press tent after the jump
and the press was asking for me to come and make a statement,
I told the press that his hand came off of the bar.
I really liked the rocket crew.
They were a bunch of nice guys. I just knew the MO
of how he treated people - nothing was ever his fault.
I told people that that's what happened.
If, by chance, that took a little bit of the pressure
off of the rocket team, then so be it.
So it got out that it was Evel's fault.
But the nagging question remains - was this the legitimate attempt
of a brave man, or was it the great rip-off of 1974?
Then the press tore him up.
Cos they think that he, along with me, had perpetrated a fraud.
Hero or hustler, or, for Americans, are those the same thing?
It was Evel Knievel against the Snake River Canyon
and the canyon was the sentimental favourite.
Evel would have liked his jump to have been huge, front-page news,
but it was overwhelmingly squashed by the big news of the day,
which was the pardon of Nixon by President Ford.
That was a major transition in the country.
Maybe he had outlived his novelty,
because I think people might have got tired listening to it.
That's when he came back to Butte
and I don't know if he was depressed or what.
Huh, he just...
I felt sure he'd just give up after that, say, "Well, I'm done."
MUSIC: England Swing by Roger Miller
# England swings like a pendulum do
-# Bobbies on bicycles... #
-He'd never been to England before.
He thought, "A new crowd, a new group,
"I can snow them a little more than I can the Americans."
Yeah, well, they hadn't heard the Teddy Roosevelt speech,
"Be good to your parents, wear a helmet."
# Westminster Abbey, the tower of Big Ben... #
-Evel Knievel is alive, well
and back in action in famed old Wembley Stadium, London, England,
for a jump that will be made over 13 London buses.
When he arrived in London,
he had only sold 3,000 seats for a 100,000-seat stadium
and he was in trouble. There was some press there to meet him,
he looks at the press and what did he do?
"I'm so glad to be here in England,
"where we came and won the war for you."
-IN EXAGGERATED ENGLISH ACCENT:
And they start writing.
He knew his job, which was to get people in Wembley Stadium.
We drove around London, just making friends.
How are you doing? What's your name?
-So the Yankee Pied Piper collected the young and the old
and led them all to Wembley Stadium.
80,000 people showed up to watch the man do it.
We walked into the arena at Wembley, where the buses lined up
and he said, "I can't do that."
I said, "What do you mean, you can't?"
"Pull a few buses out of there, it won't hurt a thing to do that."
I go over and grab our producer, I said,
"Doug, Evel says he can't do that."
He really didn't think he was going to make it.
So we went over to talk to Evel and talk him out of it.
He was in a trailer, we knocked on the door,
and he said, "Oh, no, no, I'll give it a go, I'll give it a go."
It was always, "I'll give it a go."
He was afraid he couldn't make it.
-Here is Evel Knievel!
-You know, Evel, one has to wonder, after Snake River,
one has to wonder why you continue.
Well, I sometimes think that maybe I should quit,
but you always want to keep going
and I'm kind of proud of that red, white and blue number one
I wear on my shoulder and I want to keep it on there.
I'm glad you're here today.
-I've never had an accident when you're around.
He told me earlier that outside of the jump at Caesar's Palace
where he was severely injured,
that this will probably be the most difficult jump he's ever made.
Hurt himself at Indio,
1967 at Caesar's Palace. Here he goes,
and he will go.
It was almost eerie, though.
The motorcycle was ghostly.
It was tumbling after him, sort of.
Then it eventually landed on him.
-He's down and he is hurt.
Oh, my God.
The man you now see leaning over Evel, he is John Hood,
that's his chief mechanic.
I knew, well, he's got to be hurt on this one
and I knelt down and said, "Are you OK?"
I got his helmet off and he said, "Help me up."
He wanted the microphone.
I want to stand up and walk, help me up.
He's something else, he wants to talk, he's going to talk.
Ladies and gentlemen
of this wonderful country...
..I've got to tell you...
are the last people in the world
who will ever see me jump,
because I will never, ever, ever jump again, I am through.
That crash was one of the worst as far as injuries would go.
He broke his hand, back, he broke his pelvis.
After Wembley, I went home to edit. Phone rang.
"Hello, Doug. Evel." He's calling me from his hospital room in London.
"Doug, you can't use that quote."
"What do you mean, Evel?"
"You can't use that quote, the quote where I said I wouldn't jump again."
I said, "Well, why?" He says, "Cos I may jump again."
When the jump was over in London,
I said that I'd never jump again.
That was the pain in my body overpowering the brains
that I'm supposed to have in my head.
I will jump again,
but 13 is an unlucky number.
This time I'm going to jump 14 buses.
Somehow, he gets the idea, "I am not going to go out with a crash.
"I'm going to go back to the United States
"and I'm going to jump 14 buses."
That's just who he was.
You can't do it and say you're the best in the world,
then fall off and get up and say, "I quit."
Not if you're Evel Knievel, you can't.
-The Kings Island family entertainment centre,
located just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio,
is jam-packed with people who have come to watch Evel Knievel
out of retirement and here he comes right now, Robert Craig Knievel.
A lot was riding on this jump. It was a different Evel.
He actually did practice jumps.
I'm going to go, Frank.
There's no wind going to stop me, not even a hurricane.
It was a very gutsy jump.
The doctors told him, "Just don't ever do that again."
One little slip, wrong thing, and he'd probably have been paralysed.
-Well, everything is going...
Total concentration now is getting that bike off the approach ramp
and onto the landing ramp.
DRAMATIC WESTERN-STYLE MUSIC
And he's not hesitating, he'll go.
Busted the motorcycle right now, Frank.
Boy, it did come apart, didn't it?
Boy, did I hit hard.
This motorcycle is the finest machine in the world
as far as I'm concerned. It broke in half,
but it held me up and all I can say is thanks to Number One,
thanks to Harley-Davidson,
you've been so good to me through the years.
I would like to tell all of you something now,
that as far as I'm concerned, I have jumped far enough.
Today I'm going to walk away from here with you.
I feel that's being a professional, that's what I'm going to do.
Kings Island was the longest jump of his career.
It was the biggest television audience he ever had
and it was the highest-rated episode of Wide World Of Sports ever.
He did some small jumps after that, but he never went that big again.
Kings Island was the gunfighter putting away his pistols.
If you're on a bike, you do stupid shit.
But you do stupid shit in the name of Evel Knievel.
There's no way that a youngster
is not going to want to try to do what his hero does.
I don't think there's anything wrong
with a kid wanting to be an Evel Knievel
any more than he'd want to be an OJ Simpson or Frank Gifford
or any kind of a professional athlete.
-Do you view him as a hero?
-Do you really?
Yeah, he's one of the greatest heroes.
He was a hero to so many kids,
but his own son was his biggest fan.
-This is Robbie. Look at this little guy go.
Wouldn't you know it would be the young one who would steal it?
He's the one that's got to have the longest wheelie.
He totally saw me in him. It was like, "I'm going to be you, Dad."
And the legend continues.
I want to jump the fountains at Caesar's Palace
before I end my career.
That was for you, Dad.
Yeah, Robbie broke all of his dad's records.
I mean, hell, he could jump 14 buses with no hands.
But Robbie was jumping on lighter, more powerful bikes
that were designed for jumping.
He could jump further and longer than Evel and all that stuff,
but it didn't matter.
Robbie couldn't tell a story. He was not a showman.
Knievel is the ultimate showman.
I guy could sing longer and louder than Elvis Presley,
but who gave a damn?
He was Elvis Presley.
My dad was Evel Knievel.
Even when Bobby wasn't jumping any more,
he still wanted to be in the spotlight
and he had to find other things to do to get himself attention.
Yeah, one of his projects was Hollywood.
# Viva Knievel... #
In the end, there was one guy meant to be Evel Knievel
and that was Evel.
Evel had a movie star quality about him.
There's no doubt about it. Not when he tried to act.
Look at you, you're trying to destroy yourself.
If you don't believe me, here's the proof.
I'm not going to let you commit suicide around me.
Uh, he performed for the audience,
but when it came to the acting part,
I guess there's a difference.
-..any way you want it, man!
Once it came out, it was a movie that wasn't really well received.
# Viva! #
I guess the exciting part's the jump, huh?
You know, we've got the Wallendas on the high wire
and a mentalist at the edge of the canyon in a motorcycle, so...
'When I knew I was going to take on the Snake River Canyon event,'
I decided something very important -
that I would write a book,
a legacy that people could read about the Evel Knievel promotion
of the Snake River Canyon.
And Knievel, he was my 50/50 partner and he says,
"Don't forget, just tell the truth," so with permission,
I carried an audio cassette recorder during the Evel Knievel tour.
If you listen to the tape, you can form your own opinion.
So when I wrote my book, I kept out a lot of things,
stuff I would never write about,
cos, remember, when the book was coming out,
I was still protecting his image.
Evel's attorney, he checked everything,
told me that it had Evel's approval in writing,
then the book was published.
I was at Evel's compound when he throws me this book.
He says, "Here, keep this. May be worth some money some day."
I open it up - here's all his footnotes in there.
The first part of the book, "X-Rated Evel,"
he writes in there, "Constitutes adultery."
So right from the get go, you could tell he was mad.
It just starts and you can tell, the farther it gets in the book,
the madder he got. "This is a lie and not accurate."
"Lies, lies, lies."
I read the book and you know what? I said, "Yeah, what's the problem?"
He could have said a lot more worse stuff.
I read the book a couple of times and I didn't see anything in it bad,
nothing. It was very factual, very, very, very factual.
I think that Shelly that wrote it was, uh, accurate.
..it made him really mad.
I was on the 20th Century Fox lot
and all of a sudden I saw Evel with a big smile coming at me,
I was actually glad to see him. The book was out and I was like,
"Maybe I can even talk him into doing some promotion with me."
I said, "Hey, Evel!"
And all of a sudden, my hands were held behind my back,
they tell me it was two men, I don't know,
it may have been one, it may have been two, and he came at me
with a bat, an aluminium baseball bat.
He said, "I'm going to kill you, you son of a bitch."
I did everything I could to defend myself
and I remember putting my hand up and said,
"What are you doing, what are you doing?!"
I was fighting for my life and he was whaling on me
and then I passed out.
-Knievel came to court
accompanied by his wife Linda and his attorney.
The 38-year-old daredevil faces charges of felony assault
in the baseball bat attack
on television executive Sheldon Saltman.
Knievel could have gotten away with it.
He could have if he would have just stopped being Knievel
for ten minutes.
It was a very interesting hour in Division 91 of municipal court
in which Evel Knievel fired his attorney
and entered a plea of guilty.
He fires them and says to the judge,
"Judge, I did it and I'd do it again. Do what you will with me."
This old frontier justice thing.
You know, in Butte, Montana, you settle things out in the street.
You don't settle them with lawyers
and Evel always settled it with his fists, or sometimes a tool helped.
Not with a baseball bat.
That's not Butte.
I never knew of anybody in Butte that did that.
If I did not think there was a much stronger judge some day
that I will stand before called God than the judge
I stood before in that courtroom in Santa Monica, California,
I would have killed that lousy little bastard.
I broke his arms with a baseball bat
and I think that's just what he deserved.
I'll guarantee one thing -
he doesn't write anything else about me.
-Well, but, I mean...!
I think I was a sophomore at high school at the time
and I was not proud of my dad for doing that.
Stuntman Evel Knievel got a jail sentence
yesterday for beating his former press agent with a baseball bat.
The judge told the 39-year-old motorcycle daredevil that
while as a judge he found Knievel's admission of guilt
as "refreshing", at the same time, Rafeedie said,
"Long ago we abandoned frontier justice in California."
With that, Rafeedie sentenced Knievel to six months in jail
and three years' probation.
The judge is a good judge and he's a fair judge.
Of course, when he was in jail,
it was like, I think, in his own way,
he played it as a game.
So he's in jail, but he's on work release,
so he's only in there at night
and he would have his chauffeur pick him up every morning
and take him to the bar.
-Knievel believes in sharing the wealth,
so this morning he hired a dozen limousines
to transport his fellow work release inmates to their jobs.
You know, putting him in jail, he got more press
than anything else.
There was no end to the shenanigans that guy would pull.
-The inmates were amazed,
but the authorities were not so enthusiastic.
Well, the judge got pissed
and he revoked Evel's work release privileges.
I was pissed off at him.
He started believing the hype, that he was totally impervious
and he could get away with anything.
I don't think he thought about the public.
Maybe if he did, he thought, "That's what they expect of me."
The Ideal Toy Company, which manufactures the Evel Knievel toys,
says it has already lost 1.6 million
since Evel Knievel went into the county jail.
We had a meeting at Ideal the next day or the day after.
I said, "You know, we don't sell toys of murderers or gangsters
"and stuff like that,
"so therefore we are going to suspend sales in the United States."
On the toy front,
it may not be a merry Christmas for daredevil Evel Knievel.
The contracts were cancelled and he lost a lot of money, yeah.
It all started coming apart.
# Any more it doesn't matter... #
-Knievel says his experience in jail was a good one,
but that it has set him back financially.
I hated to see him lose everything he'd worked for
in ten minutes.
When it was falling apart, it fell apart very quickly.
The cars, the boats...
..the Learjets, Ferraris, everything to go down the drain,
that was hard.
The house that we all loved got repossessed,
because my dad didn't pay the property taxes.
The bank came and got it and the IRS sold it.
We loaded up all the furniture, everything of any value,
from the saddles to guns and we would just bring
so much out at a time and we'd have a garage sale.
The arc of the Skycycle is like what happened to his career.
He was at the pinnacle,
then he destroyed his whole life.
I just dropped out of sight and played golf.
I just completely withdrew from the public.
When I met him, he was in a bit of a low point.
He was kind of just getting by, hustling golf.
He might make a couple of hundred here, a couple of hundred here.
He lived day to day at that time.
He didn't keep the fact that he was married a secret or anything
and in two weeks, I packed up what I wanted to take with me
and we went on the road.
# It's over... #
And I just let it go at that.
To heck with it, you know?
After 38 years of somebody telling you what to do...
..I didn't like him.
# It's over... #
I didn't like him.
# Nobody wins. #
You could see that his health was declining,
he was getting worse all the time.
He had a hip replacement, a pelvis reconstruction, a spinal fusion,
a liver transplant, seven or eight bouts of staph infection.
I have hepatitis C and I've got to do blood transfusions
and I've been told by the doctors five years ago
that I didn't have five years to live.
I'm taking it one day at a time.
Yeah, you felt sorry for him. I did, really.
I thought, "You're really hurting."
MUSIC: If You're Gonna Be Dumb... by Smut Peddlers
# If you're gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough
# When you get knocked down, you gotta get back up
# I ain't the sharpest rig in the ten pack but I know enough...
# To know - if you're gonna be dumb you gotta be tough... #
Then the '90s come around and motorcycle jumping was just one part
of this whole new, huge thing called "action sports".
It's amazing how quickly the sports progressed,
the multimillion, motorcycle-jumping,
skateboard-riding, surfing industry.
It's definitely come a long way from daredevils to professionals.
In 2006, I was able to land
the first double backflip on a dirt bike.
No-one ever thought that that was possible.
The bikes have evolved, the riding has evolved.
They have coaches, they have schools, they have camps,
but the spirit will never die
and Evel was the one that set our foundation for the future.
MUSIC: Fun Fun Fun by Big Boys
# Fun, fun, fun, that's what we play
# Fun, fun, fun, no matter what they think... #
Evel Knievel was always in the back of my mind,
and it wasn't like we had forgotten about him.
We just didn't really know what he was up to
and I think that people started asking what he was up to.
-..and the one and only OG, Evel Knievel!
It was great to see a new generation understand
how important he was to us.
Somehow, we raised his profile again,
but he deserved that all along.
He greatly appreciated that the kids paid their respects to him
and they did and he was amazed.
Don't ever forget,
you can fall many times in life,
but you will never be a failure as long as you try to get up.
I think my dad liked his role as an elder statesman
at the end of his life.
He thought it was really cool and where he deserved to be,
I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the next 20 years
if I'm so lucky to live that long.
I had to have a hip replacement, a complete hip replacement,
I had to have a...
You guys, I'm really having problems.
Why don't we...?
After a lifetime of injuries and surgeries,
the thing that really kicked his ass was lung disease.
If you'd asked him, "Would you rather have lived this long, Bobby,
"and be this sick,
"or died at the end of the ramp?"
I think he would have chosen the end of the ramp.
The last couple of years of his life were hell.
He was having trouble breathing and being in that living hell...
..he put his life in perspective.
I think he probably thought a lot about the things he'd done
and thought about how badly he'd treated some people.
He was preparing for the end on every level.
He righted a lot of wrongs with people,
because he felt like that was important.
It became important to him.
He told me that he had led a life
that he was ashamed of in a lot of ways
and he was just trying to talk to the people
that had "truly meant something to him," is the way he put it,
and put it right.
He said to me, "I was so sick."
He said, "I was just a sick person
"with women, I was so wrong."
And I said, "Aw, Dad, it's so good to hear you say that."
He tried to make amends with people at the end, and that's great,
but it's kind of tough to put the toothpaste
back in the tube at that point.
He caused a lot of hurt.
Well, first time I ever heard him say, "I'm sorry."
He was pretty much on his deathbed.
He just said, "I'm sorry," that was it.
Do you know, the most important thing in life
that really counts?
Your scorecard with God.
The real Bob Knievel, the Bobby Knievel,
that's the guy that I knew and that's the guy that I loved.
And that's the guy that was emerging back out of the slime.
And... And, uh, I was moved by it.
I talked to him the night before he died.
He said, "You gotta do me a favour." I says, "OK, what?"
He said, "Say a prayer for me once in a while."
I said, "OK, all right, all right,"
and he says, "Hey, I'm worse than you think."
I was on the phone with Evel and he started coughing.
And the phone dropped
and he went unconscious.
-So that was it.
But it was hard.
I wasn't ready.
But he was ready.
And that's what was important.
You just never thought that Evel was going to die.
You know, he was indestructible, and then...
It just reminded you that he was human.
I didn't lose the daredevil.
I lost this little kid who at one time I thought was my brother.
That's the indelible Knievel to me.
I still think he's a superhero.
Yeah, I know a more complete story now
and some of the stuff is really heartbreaking, you know?
But to me, what he did
Most of us don't take chances in our lives.
Most of us aren't willing to lay it on the line,
so to speak, like he was.
What my dad did, nobody's ever going to do again.
But there's a little Evel in all of us.
I guess I'd like to have him remembered as...
..a man who, when he was down, got back up.
You know? He never quit.
I think, in fairness to him,
they should not remember the evil that Evel did.
Instead, he should be remembered for the good things he did.
In times of stress,
I believe somebody on a white horse wearing a white hat will arrive.
That's the American way.
Life's pretty tough.
Life can be pretty fucking tough and, uh...
..you need your heroes, man.
He used to always say to me, he says,
"That canyon has not moved one inch
"and I do not see a big, long line of daredevils waiting to jump it."
MUSIC: Show Me The Way by Peter Frampton
# I want you
# Show me the way
# I want you
# Show me the way, yeah
# I want you
# Day after day... #
An enjoyable look at the first globally famous stunt performer, exploring the charisma and showmanship at the heart of Evel Knievel's improbable success. Knievel made a career out of ridiculous stunts and rose to fame with multiple television appearances of his daredevil stunts that captured the public's imagination throughout the late 1960s and 70s.
With fantastic archive, the film takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride from his early motorcycle stunts, through to his attempt to be fired across Snake River Canyon, to his time in jail for brutally assaulting his business partner.
The darker side of Knievel's larger-than-life persona also emerges, especially among those who knew him best. Friends, family and business colleagues paint a complex portrait of a man who preferred to be seen as a self-styled myth. His love of alcohol, womanising, and temper were all eclipsed by an obsession with insane stunts bordering on a death wish.