In tribute to Knievel, stuntman to attempt 3 motorcycle jumps

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There was a time when a cape-wearing man best known for crashing his motorcycle was one of the biggest names in U.S. pop culture.

The daredevil: Evel Knievel.

With his signature patriotic jumpsuit and increasingly ambitious motorcycle jumps over buses, cars and sharks, the stuntman became one of the defining figures of the 1970s, simultaneously thrilling and putting the fear of death into sold-out audiences — in this case, the death they feared was his.

The stunts, many of them presented on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” made him famous — spawning films, appearances on late-night talk shows and merchandise for his growing fan base. This success foreshadowed the multibillion-dollar extreme-sports industry.

Now one of that world’s biggest stars will pay tribute to the man, born Robert Craig Knievel, in a special for the History channel. On Sunday, motor-sports competitor Travis Pastrana will attempt to re-create three of Knievel’s jumps on live television as part of “Evel Live”: Caesar’s Palace; a failed attempt to clear 13 double-decker buses at Wembley Stadium in London; and a successful jump over 50 stacked cars at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (All of Pastrana’s jumps will take place in Las Vegas.)

″He wanted to put on a show,″ Pastrana said of the allure of Knievel, who died in 2007. ″He said he was going to do something. Even if the bike wasn’t fast enough or if it was too big, he did it, anyway.″

Here’s a look at two of the Knievel feats that Pastrana will re-attempt:

Caesars Palace

At a glance

‒ The three-hour tribute “Evel Live” will begin at 8 p.m. Sunday on the History channel.


Until New Year’s Eve 1967, Knievel had mostly performed in front of small crowds. This event put him on the map, even though he failed spectacularly. He was attempting to, with a Triumph motorcycle, jump the fountain at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in front of his largest crowd to date.

Knievel landed the gig via a con. He repeatedly called the owner of Caesars, Jay Sarno, pretending to be lawyers and businessmen asking when the jump was. Finally, Knievel called pretending to be his own representative — and threatened to sue Sarno for using his name without permission to promote an event he knew nothing about. This got Knievel a meeting with Sarno — and a real event.

Knievel fell short on the jump and suffered several broken bones, including a crushed pelvis. But the moment became immortalized in pop culture because footage of the event, shot by actress Linda Evans, went the 1967 equivalent of viral. ABC repeatedly played the video.

″That was the catalyst to his whole career,″ Montville said.

Wembley Stadium


Needing to make a splash after a failed jump the prevous year at the Snake River Canyon in Idaho, Knievel went to Britain.

In front of 100,000 people at Wembley, he tried to clear 13 double-decker buses.

“He was kind of used up in America,” Montville said, “so he thought, how could he sell himself again?

“Nobody knew who he was when he got there, but he created such a demand with the English press.”

Knievel hit the 13th bus and was launched over his handlebars. After landing, he kept rolling and the motorcycle eventually rolled onto him. Having fractured vertebrae, he was taken off on a stretcher but then stopped to address the audience.

“I have to tell you that you are the last people in the world who will see me jump,” he said. “Because I will never, ever, ever jump again. I’m through.”

Knievel then walked off of his own volition. And his retirement didn’t last.

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