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America's Daredevil Evel Knievel Dies at 69

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America's Daredevil Evel Knievel Dies at 69


America's Daredevil Evel Knievel Dies at 69

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In the 1960s and '70s, no man made America or made the world gawk and cringe and wonder the way Evel Knievel did. Here, he was on his motorcycle jumping 11 Mack trucks.

(Soundbite of archived sportscast)

Unidentified Man #1: Cameras are focused upon Evel.

Unidentified Man #2: And the wind is a factor, Howard. This thing is very different down here than there.

(Soundbite of motorcycle engine roaring)

Unidentified Man #2: Back to his area and here he comes.

(Soundbite of motorcycle engine roaring)

Unidentified Man #1: He did it.

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, wow.

Unidentified Man #1: He did it.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Whether leaping his specially customized Harley Davidson over the fountain at Caesar's Palace - not so successfully - or riding a rocket in an attempt to jump Snake River Canyon, Evel Knievel, who was born Robert Craig Knievel Jr., lived remarkably and many times nearly died.

Today, news that the greatest daredevil in American memory has in fact died, not from the trauma of a mislanding but suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis.

Joining us is his eldest son, Kelly Knievel in Las Vegas. Welcome to the program. First, our condolences to you.

Mr. KELLY KNIEVEL (Evel Knievel's Son): Thank you. I appreciate it.

SIEGEL: What made your father tick?

Mr. KNIEVEL: What made him tick was his individual self-determination to forge his own way in life.

SIEGEL: Which was defined by courting death over and over and over - or massive injury over and over again?

Mr. KNIEVEL: Well, I think that was part of it, but that was part of who he was and the profession that he chose. And part of that stems from the way he grew up in a hardscrabble mining town in Butte, Montana. And it was part of the character of the town that forged those type of individuals. And I think my father was just one of those special people that took it as far as he could take it to.

SIEGEL: I've read that he was a great high school athlete and that from the very early age he would ride a bike and leap over things with a bike.

Mr. KNIEVEL: I think some of that's probably a little exaggerated, but he was pretty good at most everything he sets his mind to do.

SIEGEL: Did you grow up as daddy was going to leap over something else and worrying about what would happen to him or did you always know he was always going to succeed?

Mr. KNIEVEL: Well, we were young so for us it was normal. Every time he crashed, he'd always come home. So I guess it was part of the program for us, for everybody else it was worrisome and spectacular. But we were used to it pretty much.

SIEGEL: Dad's in traction again after a jump.

Mr. KNIEVEL: Ah, he was tough about it. Never complained about his injuries.

SIEGEL: Was that physical courage and risk-taking - did this typify everything in his life or was that his job and in other respects was he kind of a cautious father?

Mr. KNIEVEL: I don't think he ever saw his career as a job. I think he loved his career and he loved to be who he was and as far as his kids were concerned, he taught by example.

SIEGEL: In this case, he didn't raise you hoping that you would jump motorcycles over trucks that that wasn't an ambition he had for you.

Mr. KNIEVEL: I think he might had hoped for that. But he wasn't the type of parent who was going to shove something down his kids' throats to make sure that they did what he wanted them to do. He realized everybody was an individual, just like he was and everybody finds their own way.

SIEGEL: When did he give up riding a motorcycle?

Mr. KNIEVEL: He never really gave up. I think he rode up - rode one all the way up until the time he fell off and he couldn't pick it up anymore. I think that's the only thing that ever stopped him.

SIEGEL: Before I let you go, I just have to confirm the legend we all knew decades ago - we thought we knew, anyway - that he had broken every bone in his body in various crashes.

Mr. KNIEVEL: Well, I think he's broken every major bone in his body except for his neck, but pretty much every bone, yup.

SIEGEL: And there might have been some metatarsals somewhere that had escaped a fracture or something.

Mr. KNIEVEL: Some of those small bones, he was only interested in doing things in big ways, so some of those small bones he overlooked when he crashed.

SIEGEL: Well, we're sorry for your loss. And thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. KNIEVEL: Thank you. I appreciate you calling.

SIEGEL: That's Kelly Knievel, the eldest son of Evel Knievel who has died in Florida at the age of 69.

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