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Knievel: I wanted to keep my word
ABC Sports Online


Evel Knievel was the forerunner to today's daredevil. In an excerpt from an exclusive interview conducted for the Wide World of Sports 40th Anniversary, Mr. Knievel talked about the importance of keeping his word to his sponsors and fans.

ABC Sports
You're one of the greatest self-promoters sport has ever seen, how does it feel?

Evel Knievel
I used to race motorcycles and really didn't win enough to eat lunch, let alone dinner. All over the United States I raced, and I felt the motorcycling public would support a daredevil show like Joey Chitwood and his Auto Daredevils, so I formed a whole show.

I always was very good at promoting things and having teams. I had my own hockey team, Senior A team. It just comes naturally to me. I don't have any problem doing it. I started it, and when I got hurt the show stopped, but the jump got so much publicity I just kept adding cars and just kept jumping further and further. I guess you might say I was part motorcycle rider and part show.

Evel Knievel
Evel Knievel is shown in his rocket before his failed attempt at a highly promoted 3/4-mile leap across Snake River Canyon.
ABC Sports
Were you trying to appeal to patriotism by wearing the red, white and blue uniform?

Knievel
No, I wasn't trying to appeal to anybody's patriotism by wearing the red, white and blue. I really detested the publicity motorcycling was getting at the time I started in the '60s. I didn't like the Hell's Angels at all. So I just took off the black leather jacket and put on a white one -- red, white and blue. I'm glad I did. I thought I made the right decision.

ABC Sports
Why do you think people came to watch you?

Knievel
I think the public came to watch me because seventy percent of them were fans. I got that feeling from the fan letters and from talking to people. Seventy percent were real fans who wanted to be there to see the jump.

Twenty percent wanted to come and if there was an accident they wanted to see it. But they didn't want to see me get killed.

Then there's 10 percent of the population that were looking for blood and or death. They're the sick part of our society, so I was really interested in the seventy percent.

ABC Sports
When did you decide you were going to risk your life?

Knievel
Well, I really didn't want to risk my life. But the further the jumps got, the more cars and trucks and buses I jumped, it became a life-risking profession, not just a show.

ABC Sports
Talk a little bit about your injuries.

Knievel
I've had between 35 and 40 operations. Thirty-some of them were major open-reduction operations where they cut me open, put steel into me, sewed me up, then took it back out a year or so later. I've had some real serious open-reduction operations and I just underwent a liver transplant a short time ago.

I know what that's all about and believe me, I feel sorry for anybody that has to go through the operations. Liver, heart and kidney transplants, it's a tough way to go.

ABC Sports
How do you feel today?

Knievel
I feel great. I play golf two or three times a week. I still ride my motorcycle and travel all over the country representing different corporations. I'm here now at this Harley Davidson Cafe, with Comnet Erickson Radio Company from Florida, and I'm doing two other shows while I'm here. And I've got to go to LA to do three television shows. So believe me, I'm busy.

ABC Sports
Is this a revival of Evel Knievel?

Knievel
I couldn't work for the last year because of my transplant. I represent probably nine different big corporations in this country. So, it's not really a revival. That started about 10 years ago. I'm sure glad it did. I could give the credit to George Foreman. Really. If you're listening, Big George, thank you. Everything's going great for a lot of us.

ABC Sports
Do you feel lucky to be alive?

Knievel
Yes, I feel lucky to be alive. I've always felt there was somebody watching over me. I see these other young fellas jumping and there's been several of them killed and very badly injured. I trained myself to relax when I knew I was going to go over these handlebars. I think that's probably what saved my life -- just knowing what to do.

ABC Sports
Are you saying that there's a way to crash?

Knievel
When you crash, it's like a baby falling out of a hotel window. They don't know what's happening, so they're relaxed. Most of them live through a fall of any distance because they are relaxed. They don't tighten up. I felt that was the right way for me to do things, and I practiced it and I did it.

ABC Sports
How did you handle things when something didn't go quite right?

Knievel
I just prayed and went ahead. I did the best I possibly could after riding for 20-some years.

ABC Sports
What about after an accident?

Knievel
After an accident? I was planning my next jump, or wanting to keep my word with the promotional people wherever they were in the United States. While they were pushing me down a hallway on a stretcher to the operating room and having my wife call 'em and saying, he'll be there. My enthusiasm never dampened until later on in my life.

ABC Sports
Did you feel indestructible or bulletproof?

Knievel
I did feel bulletproof. I thought I could handle a motorcycle as good as any man in the world and I was very competent and capable at what I was doing. But the bulletproof feeling, after I missed so many times, became a feeling of anxiety. I always felt I could fall many times in life but I'd never been a failure as long as I tried to get up, to continue on, in any way that I could. I think that's what helped me through my career.

I think the crashing I did and the spills I took, of course, got a lot of publicity. I think if I hadn't been hurt so many times and didn't get up, didn't continue and speak with a positive mental attitude, I don't really believe I would have become so popular. I think Americans identified with me during the '70s, I really do. I think I have some wonderful loyal fans around the country.

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Classic Wide World Flashback: Evel Knievel

Wide World of Sports Highlights -- 1960s

Wide World of Sports Highlights -- 1970s

Wide World of Sports Highlights -- 1980s