Saturday, December 01, 2007

Remembering Evil Knievel

Growing up during the late 1960s and 70s, Robert Craig "Evil" Knievel's name was synonymous with reckless childhood behavior that usually, but not always, involved a bicycle. Evil Knievel, of course, made his reputation with outrageous, death-defying (but not injury-free) stunts involving his motorcycle. Nothing was off-limits for Evil Knievel -- jumping through fire-rings, over boxes of live rattlesnakes, over water filled with sharks or open-air cages filled with mountain lions and then, finally, cars -- lots and lots of cars . . . 10, 11, 14 . . . and then, not to be outdone by himself, Greyound buses. He once tried to pull off something involving a rocket but it didn't work out.

Knievel died Friday at 69 years old. I had no idea he was still around. The last I heard he had gone bankrupt in the early 1980s and subsequently turned to religion. Evil Knievel action figures and other such merchandise tallied up about $300 million in sales during his prime. I must confess that I was intrigued by Knievel's stunts and watched them on television with my friends. But I never had that devil-may-care streak in me that sought to emulate Knievel's crazy-ass ideas, although plenty of my friends did and had the emergency room visits to show for it.

Knievel's exploits were inspired less by scientific curiosity and more by his determination to make money. Who cares? He entertained millions of people along the way, didn't kill anyone and died having inspired a generation of little and not-so-little boys to take a chance on something and experience the thrill of real living.

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