Over the course of his career, he attempted more than 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps. Knievel was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Robert and Ann divorced in , after the birth of their second child, Nicolas, known as Nic. Both parents decided to leave Butte. Knievel and his brother were raised in Butte by their paternal grandparents, Ignatius and Emma Knievel.
At the age of eight, Knievel attended a Joie Chitwood auto daredevil show, to which he gave credit for his later career choice as a motorcycle daredevil. Knievel left Butte High School after his sophomore year and got a job in the copper mines as a diamond drill operator with the Anaconda Mining Company , but he preferred motorbiking to what he called "unimportant stuff".
Knievel was fired when he made the earth mover do a motorcycle-type wheelie and drove it into Butte's main power line, leaving the city without electricity for several hours.
Always looking for new thrills and challenges, Knievel participated in local professional rodeos and ski jumping events, including winning the Northern Rocky Mountain Ski Association Class A Men's ski jumping championship in During the late s, Knievel joined the United States Army. His athletic ability allowed him to join the track team, where he was a pole vaulter. After his army stint, Knievel returned to Butte, where he met and married his first wife, Linda Joan Bork. Shortly after getting married, Knievel started the Butte Bombers, a semi-pro hockey team.
To help promote his team and earn some money, he convinced the Czechoslovakian Olympic ice hockey team to play the Butte Bombers in a warm-up game to the Winter Olympics to be held in California.
Knievel was ejected from the game minutes into the third period and left the stadium. When the Czechoslovakian officials went to the box office to collect the expense money that the team was promised, workers discovered the game receipts had been stolen. The United States Olympic Committee ended up paying the Czechoslovakian team's expenses to avoid an international incident. After the birth of his first son, Kelly, Knievel realized that he needed to come up with a new way to support his family financially. Using the hunting and fishing skills taught to him by his grandfather, Knievel started the Sur-Kill Guide Service.
He guaranteed that if a hunter employed his service and paid his fee, he would get the big game animal desired or Knievel would refund his fee. Knievel, who was learning about the culling of elk in Yellowstone, decided to hitchhike from Butte to Washington, D.
After his conspicuous trek he hitchhiked with a inch-wide 1. Culling was stopped in the late s. After returning home to the west from Washington, D. He joined the motocross circuit and had moderate success, but he still could not make enough money to support his family.
During , Knievel broke his collarbone and shoulder in a motocross accident. The doctors said he could not race for at least six months. To help support his family, he switched careers and sold insurance for the Combined Insurance Company of America , working for W. Clement Stone. Knievel was successful as an insurance salesman even selling insurance policies to several institutionalized mental patients [ citation needed ] and wanted recognition for his efforts.
When the company refused to promote him to vice-president after he had been a few months on the job, he quit. There, he opened a Honda motorcycle dealership and promoted motocross racing.
After the closure, Knievel went to work for Don Pomeroy at his motorcycle shop in Sunnyside, Washington. As a boy, Knievel had seen the Joie Chitwood show. He decided that he could do something similar using a motorcycle. Promoting the show himself, Knievel rented the venue, wrote the press releases, set up the show, sold the tickets and served as his own master of ceremonies.
After enticing the small crowd with a few wheelies, he proceeded to jump a foot-long box of rattlesnakes and two mountain lions. Despite landing short and his back wheel hitting the box containing the rattlesnakes, Knievel managed to land safely. Knievel realized that to make any amount of real money he would need to hire more performers, stunt coordinators and other personnel so that he could concentrate on the jumps. Knievel did not want his image to be that of a Hells Angels rider, so he convinced Blair to allow him to use Evel instead of Evil.
The show was a huge success. Knievel received several offers to host the show after their first performance. The next performance was on February 10, in Barstow, California. During the performance, Knievel attempted a new stunt in which he would jump, spread-eagled , over a speeding motorcycle.
Knievel jumped too late and the motorcycle hit him in the groin , tossing him 15 feet into the air. He was hospitalized as a result of his injuries. When released, he returned to Barstow to finish the performance he had started almost a month earlier.
Knievel's daredevil show broke up after the Barstow performance because injuries prevented him from performing. After recovering, Knievel started traveling from small town to small town as a solo act. To get ahead of other motorcycle stunt people who were jumping animals or pools of water, Knievel started jumping cars.
He began adding more and more cars to his jumps when he would return to the same venue to get people to come out and see him again. Knievel had not had a serious injury since the Barstow performance, but on June 19 in Missoula, Montana , he attempted to jump 12 cars and a cargo van.
The distance he had for takeoff did not allow him to get up enough speed. His back wheel hit the top of the van while his front wheel hit the top of the landing ramp. Knievel ended up with a severely broken arm and several broken ribs.
The crash and subsequent stay in the hospital were a publicity windfall. With each successful jump, the public wanted him to jump one more car.
Landing his cycle on the last vehicle, a panel truck, Knievel was thrown from his bike. This time he suffered a serious concussion. After a month, he recovered and returned to Graham on August 18 to finish the show; but the result was the same, only this time the injuries were more serious.
Again coming up short, Knievel crashed, breaking his left wrist, right knee and two ribs. Sarno finally agreed to meet Knievel and arranged for Knievel to jump the fountains on December 31, ABC declined, but said that if Knievel had the jump filmed and it was as spectacular as he said it would be, they would consider using it later.
To keep costs low, Derek employed his then-wife Linda Evans as one of the camera operators. It was Evans who filmed Knievel's famous landing. After doing his normal pre-jump show and a few warm-up approaches, Knievel began his real approach. When he hit the takeoff ramp, he claimed he felt the motorcycle unexpectedly decelerate. The sudden loss of power on the takeoff caused Knievel to come up short and land on the safety ramp which was supported by a van. This caused the handlebars to be ripped out of his hands as he tumbled over them onto the pavement where he skidded into the Dunes parking lot.
As a result of the crash, Knievel suffered a crushed pelvis and femur, fractures to his hip, wrist, and both ankles, and a concussion that kept him in the hospital. Rumors circulated that he was in a coma for 29 days in the hospital, but this was refuted by his wife and others in the documentary film Being Evel.
After his crash and recovery, Knievel was more famous than ever. ABC-TV bought the rights to the film of the jump, paying far more than it originally would have had it televised the jump live. In a interview with Dick Cavett , Knievel stated that he was uninsurable following the Caesars' crash. Knievel said he was turned down 37 times from Lloyd's of London , stating, "I have trouble getting life insurance, accident insurance, hospitalization and even insurance for my automobile Lloyd's of London has rejected me 37 times so if you hear the rumor that they insure anybody, don't pay too much attention to it.
To keep his name in the news, Knievel proposed his biggest stunt ever, a motorcycle jump across the Grand Canyon. Just five months after his near-fatal crash in Las Vegas, Knievel performed another jump. Knievel ended up breaking his right leg and foot as a result of the crash. On August 3, , Knievel returned to jumping, making more money than ever before.
While trying to stick the landing, he lost control of the bike and crashed, breaking his hip again. By , Knievel realized that the U. To keep his fans interested, Knievel considered several other stunts that might match the publicity that would have been generated by jumping the canyon.
Ideas included jumping across the Mississippi River , jumping from one skyscraper to another in New York City, and jumping over 13 cars inside the Houston Astrodome. While flying back to Butte from a performance tour, Knievel looked out the window and saw the Snake River Canyon.
After finding a location just east of Twin Falls, Idaho , that was wide enough, deep enough, and on private property, Knievel leased acres 1. He set the date for Labor Day September 4 , On January 7 and 8, , Knievel set the record by selling over , tickets to back-to-back performances at the Houston Astrodome. The car jump was filmed for the movie Evel Knievel.
Knievel held the record for 27 years until Bubba Blackwell jumped 20 cars in with an XR On May 10, Knievel crashed while attempting to jump 13 Pepsi delivery trucks. His approach was complicated by the fact that he had to start on pavement, cut across grass, and then return to pavement.
His lack of speed caused the motorcycle to come down front wheel first. He managed to hold on until the cycle hit the base of the ramp. Knievel broke his collarbone, suffered a compound fracture of his right arm, and broke both legs.
On March 3, , at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California , after making a successful jump, he tried to come to a quick stop because of a short landing area. Knievel reportedly suffered a broken back and a concussion after getting thrown off and run over by his motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson. Knievel returned to jumping in November , when he successfully jumped over 50 stacked cars at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Made of steel, aluminum and fiberglass, the customized motorcycle weighs about pounds.