All motorcyclists know who Evel Knievel is, but do not know his entire fascinating story. There is much more to him that the high-flying, daredevil stunts he performed in public with millions watching in awe. In fact, I already learned something new about him; I thought his name was spelled “Evil Knievel”, as in the bad-ass, biker-life, born-to-be-wild type.
He was born Robert “Bobby” Craig Knievel, in Butte, Montana on October 17th, 1938. From a young age, you could consider him a bit on the reckless and rambunctious side. One of his first jobs was a miner and drill operator where he got to drive an earth mover. However, this career did not last long when he attempted a wheelie on the earth mover and ran it into the city’s main power line. The city was without power for hours and Evel lost his job. Without work, Evel played hockey, participated in rodeos, ski jumping events, and later joined the United States Army where he was on the track team as a pole vaulter.
Evel was married twice, once to Linda Joan Bork, and to his second wife Krystal Kennedy. He had 4 children, two boys and two girls whom he loved dearly and wanted to support as a family. He decided stunting and motorcycles was the way to accomplish this. To get started, one of his first jumps was over a 20 foot long box of rattlesnakes and two mountain lions. He quickly moved on to bigger and better stunts, such as jumping cars, trucks, buildings, and other random items he saw fit to expand his fan base.
He was making approximately $25,000 per jump, but at a great cost. Crashing a lot made insurance companies not want to work with him, and he broke over 450 bones in his lifetime, along with concussions and being in a coma a few times.
Kneivel was a huge supporter of motorcycle helmet safety and always told his fans to wear helmets and proper gear. Evel claimed the main reason he was still alive and walking was because he was wearing a helmet. In 1987, he was introduced as "the best walking commercial for a helmet law". However, his health was in decline due to contracting Hepatitis C from so many blood transfusions during surgeries. He desperately needed a liver transplant and in February 1999, only had a few days to live. On the way home from the doctor, he received a call back that the hospital found a donor. It was from a young man who passed away from a motorcycle accident.
In 2005, he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis which is a lung disease that has no cure. It required him to be on supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day. At 69 years young, Evel Knievel died in Clearwater, Florida on November 30, 2007.
Some quirky facts about Evel Kneivel:
- Not wanting to be considered “Evil” he purposely misspelled his name.
- He hitchhiked from Montana to Washington D.C. to support elk hunting awareness.
- He worked as an insurance salesman and opened a Honda dealership to raise money.
- He credits the Joie Chitwood show as giving him inspiration and motivation.
- He never jumped the Grand Canyon, it was a rumor Evel started himself.
- Bikes he used were: Honda 250cc, Norton 750cc, and Triumph Bonneville 650cc, Harley- Davidson XR-750cc.
- He often changed colors and patterns on his famous leather jumpsuits.
- Knievel was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.