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10 Stories About Evel Knievel You Won’t Believe

 

Evel Knievel became one of America’s most iconic figures during the 1960s and 70s. With his outrageous stunts, hard-living lifestyle and distinctive patriotic fashion sense, he was seen by many to epitomise the American dream.

A boy, who had grown up in the poor backwoods town of Butte, Montana, who had gone on to become famous globally. Not only for his bravery but also for his spectacular crashes. Knievel himself once said, “Nobody wants to see me die, but they don’t want to miss it if I do”.

As a result, millions would tune in to ABC’s Wide World of Sport to watch his exploits and his Ideal Toys range, including the famous Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, was said to have grossed over $300 million in sales.

Despite his enduring legend, however, there are still many lesser-known stories about his life that still defy belief to this day.

10. He Brutally Assaulted Someone Whilst Having 2 Broken Arms

Flickr/James Lee

In 1977, whilst recuperating from a failed jump, Knievel became aware of an upcoming book ‘Evel Knievel on Tour’ written by Sheldon Saltman, the promotor of Knievel’s disastrous Snake River Canyon stunt.

The book alleged that Knievel was abusive towards his family, was an alcoholic and also an anti-Semite.

Knievel then decided to fly California to confront Saltman and once arriving, with both arms still in casts, proceeded to viciously attack him with an aluminium baseball bat shattering the bone in one of Saltman’s arms and rendering him unconscious.

For his actions, Knievel was sentenced to 6 months in county jail and was also given 3 years probation. He remained unrepentant however, arranging for himself and his fellow prisoners to be transported to-and-from their work release programmes in chauffer driven limousines.

9. Matthew McConaughey Delivered His Eulogy

Focus Features

Following his death in 2007, his funeral in his hometown of Butte, Montana was attended by thousands. His funeral was a grand affair, extensively planned by the man himself, and included the hearse taking a 6-mile tour around the famous ‘Evel Knievel Loop’, a popular tourist route named after the town’s most well-known resident.

The crowd included former boxing heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Frazier and Oscar-winning actor, Matthew McConaughey. Who had become personal friends with Knievel after presenting the History Channel’s 2005 documentary, ‘Absolute Evel’.

During the funeral, McConaughey went on to deliver a eulogy on Knievel’s life. The eulogy was well-received and included the poignant line: “He’s forever in flight now. He doesn’t have to come back down; he doesn’t have to land.”

8. He Kidnapped His Own Wife… Twice

Pixabay

Knievel was first married in 1951 to his childhood sweetheart, Linda Bork, with whom he shared 4 children. Knievel claimed to have twice kidnapped her during their courtship and married her after the second time.

Their relationship was dogged with allegations of infidelity and he personally estimated to have slept with over 2000 women, with his record allegedly being 8 in a 24-hour period. During a visit to Kansas City in 1986, Knievel was arrested on charges of soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute for which he received a $200 fine.

Knievel’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1997, after they had split up a few years prior. He then married his second wife, Krystal Kennedy-Knievel, in 1999. The pair were divorced shortly after, but continued to live together until his death.

7. He Ran A Poaching Business

Wikimedia

Following the birth of his first son, Kelly, Knievel realised that he needed to provide a stable income for his family so started his own hunting tours business called the ‘Sur(e)-Kill Guide Service’. These tours were initially successful, until local law enforcement realised that Knievel was, in fact, simply leading his clients into Yellowstone National Park to illegally poach protected elk.

Knievel moved onto a more lucrative hunting method when he heard that the US government was culling the elk in Yellowstone anyway. After receiving this news, he hitch-hiked to Washington DC to personally petition the Secretary of the Interior to move the elk to Montana so he could sell the opportunity to cull them himself

Shockingly, this strategy worked and the relocation of elk continues to this day. It is unknown whether this decision was at all influenced by Knievel’s, extremely conspicuous, gift of a 54-inch-wide rack of elk antlers which he carried for the entire duration of the 2000-mile journey.

6. He Once Held George Hamilton At Gunpoint Over A Script

American International Pictures

Before his aforementioned Viva Knievel film, Knievel was the inspiration for an eponymous biographical film in 1971 starring George Hamilton. At the time the film received a lukewarm reception, receiving only 2 stars from famed reviewer Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times . However, the most interesting story from the film came from its pre-production.

During which, as Hamilton recalls, Knievel was so concerned about the film portraying him in a negative light that he forced Hamilton to read him the script at gunpoint. Hamilton quickly obliged and read the entire script aloud to a heavily intoxicated Knievel who, in the end, was satisfied by the way his story was being told.

Ultimately Knievel was left unimpressed by the finished film however, the script had such an impact on him that later in life he allegedly began to quote his film-self before his stunts.

5. His Fashion Inspiration Was Liberace

LGI Stock

Other than his motorcycles, Knievel’s most iconic possession was his star-spangled jumpsuit complete with matching cape and boots, one of which sold for over $100,000 in 2017. Despite the obvious white-suit connection to Elvis Presley, it’s said that it was actually Liberace who inspired Knievel’s flamboyant costume.

The colour of the suit was another marketing tactic to dissociate himself from the Hell’s Angels. Whilst they were known for their black leather jackets, Knievel favoured a pristine white suit, which he accentuated with stars and stripes to show his patriotism and a cape to add to his superhero image.

Even in his private life, Knievel had an ostentatious dress sense as evidenced by his 1973 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, during which he wore an enormous fur coat complete with a cane that contained a hidden liquor compartment.

4. He Was A Public Safety Icon

Wikipedia

As someone who regularly risked his life in a series of increasingly death-defying stunts, Knievel is the last person you’d expect to front multiple public safety campaigns. However, throughout his life he lent his image to a variety of them and always championed the importance of ‘keeping your word’.

He is probably best known for his anti-drugs message, one which he would often deliver before his stunts. During one of these anti-drug sermons, in 1971, he caused a near riot when he accused the present Hell’s Angel bikers of being drug dealers. This resulted in a tire iron being thrown at him during the show and an ensuing fight that led to 3 bikers being hospitalised.

His most prominent anti-drugs activity was, however, his 1977 film Viva Knievel in which Knievel (played by himself) foiled a drug smuggling plot across the US-Mexican border.

He was also known for promoting the use of a helmet whilst motorcycling and described anyone who rode without one as a ‘goddamned fool’. He even went as far as to offer a cash reward to any person who saw him performing a stunt without one. When he appeared before the California legislature to support their 1987 bill to make motorcycle helmets mandatory he was introduced as the “best walking commercial for a helmet there is”.

3. He Was An Insurance Salesman

propertyinsurancecoveragelaw.com

Before his foray into the world of motorcycle stunts, Knievel held a regular job selling insurance door-to-door for Combined Insurance. He even held a company record for selling policies, having sold 271 in a single week. However, this record was short-lived when it quickly became apparent that a large number of these had been sold to the inmates of a nearby psychiatric facility

His record-breaking performance turned out to be his downfall as he quickly became bored with going door-to-door and, after only a few months on the job, appealed to be given a seat on the board of the entire company.

Unsurprisingly this appeal was declined. Following this, he quickly left the company and moved his family to Washington where he opened a Honda dealership.

2. He Was An Accomplished Ice Hockey Player

2016 Getty Images

Whilst almost exclusively known for his motorcycling prowess, as a young man Knievel was an accomplished sportsman who excelled in track and field, ski jumping, and especially ice hockey. He even played professionally for one season with the North Carolina-based Charlotte Clippers .

In his hometown, Knievel started his own team, the Butte Bombers. The team played a number of semi-professional and college teams but most notably, in 1960, they participated in an exhibition match against the 1960 Czech Olympic team. The match resulted in a great deal of publicity for the team and a reported 2000 spectators watched the Bombers lose 22-3.

However, the events that occurred after the match led to Knievel almost starting a major diplomatic incident. After being ejected from the game in the 3rd period he promptly left the stadium, hours later, when the Czech officials went to collect their share of the game’s takings they were gone.

In the end, the US Olympic Committee was forced to step in to compensate the visitors and quell any further diplomatic unrest.

1. He Got His Name In Jail

amazon

Born Robert Craig Knievel, it wasn’t until 1956 that he acquired the name Evel. The story, as he told it, was that it came during a brief spell in jail on charges of either reckless driving or theft of hubcaps depending on which source you believe.

He was jailed with another local man, William Knofel, whom the officers had nicknamed ‘Awful Knofel’. During a roll call, one of the officers remarked on the presence of both Awful Knofel and Evil Knievel in one cell and the name stuck.

Knievel would later alter the spelling from ‘Evil’ to ‘Evel’ as a marketing move to escape any potential connections with the Hell’s Angels biker gang that became popular in the 1960s.

 

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