Evel Knievel, who says he is going to jump the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle next Labor Day, is having a glass of orange juice with John Herring, a songwriter, in the coffee shop of the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills at 3 a.m. Herring, who has composed such hits as What Have I Got of My Own? and What Do You Do with an Old, Old Song? has agreed to write a song about Evel Knievel—a name, by the way, that rhymes, being pronounced Evil Kahneevil. Herring tells Knievel he shouldn't publicize their relationship. "It's more admirable that someone was inspired by your jump and went and wrote the song," he says.
In fact, someone was inspired—another songwriter named Arlin Harmon. Herring has already heard Harmon's lyrics a couple of times, but Knievel, who is deeply affected by them, insists on reciting them once more:
"I want to tell you a story about a fella I know
That can make your hands sweat, your blood run cold....
He stands tall and straight, looks like a man you'd want to kiss.
To see him flirt with death is something you can't afford to miss.
Because he's evil. Because he's Evel Knievel.
He's going to jump the Grand Canyon in '68.
Thousands of people will be there for that long-awaited date.
When he sits on that ramp and his engines start to roar,
He's going to know how a hawk feels before he starts to soar.
It's 3,000 feet to the bottom of that gorge.
His life will be hanging from a small ripcord.
And whether or not he heeds the devil's longing call,
Everyone will know that Evel Knievel's the greatest of them all."
"Y'don't want to put him in a Big Bad John bag," Herring says. "Y'got to bring it up to a higher plane of thought where everybody can feel it, y'dig? He could be in business. He's legitimate. What's he want to jump that thing for? Some say he wants to make a lot of money. The more sensitive say he's looking for something. He says, 'Shove that noise. I'm going to jump this scooter.' Y'got to get closer to an elevated message, like:
"When the roar of thunder fills the air,
And your heart begins to pound,
When 10,000 people rise to their feet [y' understand?],
Then you'll know he's leaving the ground [or Evel Knievel's in town].
"You give the effects. What you taste, hear, feel—dig?
"No use to worry about your tomato.
He didn't come to town for tomatoes.
"He's seeking something else. You got to give it a broad philosophical base. I never wrote a song that didn't make money. I never will."
Why is Knievel jumping the Canyon?
"To get to the other side," he says.
If it can be said that anyone has the background to jump the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle, it is Evel Knievel. For the past two years he has earned his living jumping a motorcycle from one ramp to another, and he claims to have made $100,000 in 1967. "You might say I have a pretty comfortable living," he says, "but it's pretty uncomfortable."
Among other things, he has cleared 16 cars parked side by side, and a crate containing 50 live rattlesnakes, with two mountain lions staked at the near end. Originally the lions were to be situated at both ends, but their owner was afraid Knievel would fall short and kill one of them. As it happened, he did not jump far enough. "I took the end right out of the box," he says. "A couple of snakes wiggled free. I hit the dirt and sprained my ankle. I don't jump rattlesnakes no more."
Knievel has had five major accidents as a result of making (or, in some cases, missing) his jump. The first of these mishaps occurred in Missoula, Mont. "I had skipped from 10 to 13 cars," he recalls. "Boy, oh, boy! I hit the 13th. That was a panel truck. I always put a panel next to the landing ramp. A panel gives. The landing ramp doesn't give. It will cut your head off. I didn't have enough speed. When I hit, it knocked me unconscious. I went up in the air and slammed down on the ramp and rolled to the bottom. My left arm was completely broken in half. My ribs were nearly all broken, and I had head injuries. After two weeks I regained enough strength for an operation.
"In Graham, Washington I tried 16 cars. I made 15. You never know the sensation of going through the air when you make it, but you sure know it when you miss. I had an awful brain concussion, but I heal up fast. A month later, in a return appearance in Graham, I couldn't hold on when I landed and broke my left wrist, my right knee and a couple of ribs. In Seattle I overjumped and broke my lower spine. I landed too hard. A motorcycle coming down from 30 feet at 70 mph gives you a terrible jolt."
On New Year's Eve, Knievel jumped the ornamental fountains in front of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, which are billed as the World's Largest Privately Owned Fountains. Several weeks earlier he had said, "I know I can jump these babies, but what I don't know is whether I can hold on to the motorcycle when it lands. Oh, boy, I hope I don't fall off."
Knievel's fears were justified. Shortly after the motorcycle hit the landing ramp, he fell and rolled 165 feet across an asphalt parking lot. Knievel is now in Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital, recovering from compound fractures of the hip and pelvis. "Everything seemed to come apart," he said. "I couldn't hang on to the motorcycle. I kept smashing over and over and over and over and over, and I kept saying to myself, 'Stay conscious, stay conscious.' But, hey, I made the fountains!"
Knievel was—spectacularly—aloft for 50 yards. This, he claims, is a world record, which is undoubtedly true; of course, as he says, "I'm the only guy in the world doing what I'm doing. I'm a jumping son-of-a-bitch. I'll jump anything. This summer I'm going to jump at Circus Circus, a new casino they're building in Vegas. They want me to jump the scoreboard in Soldier Field. I can jump Candlestick Park. I'm probably one of the most brilliant guys in the country so far as trajectory is concerned. Man, I can leap with a single bound."
Evel Knievel decided to jump the Grand Canyon sight unseen. "Some guy in Kalispell, Montana told me it was only 600 feet across," he says. "I figured I could jump it. Of course, once I said I was going to jump it, I thought I might as well look at it." When he did, he found the narrowest place suitable for jumping was more like 1.1 miles from rim to rim. "Actually, there is a place on the Little Colorado which is a quarter of a mile across," he says. "But that's not the Grand Canyon. You can't say you're going to jump the Grand Canyon and then jump some other canyon."
Knievel proposes to take off from the Navajo Indian Reservation and parachute to earth in the Kaibab National Forest. Although the rim of the Canyon where he expects to land is about 600 feet lower than that from which he will take off, in order to gain enough altitude to clear the gorge Knievel is going to build a dirt ramp 735 feet long and perhaps 200 feet high. For the jump he plans to ride either a Triumph 650 cc or a new Triumph Cub 350 cc equipped with a streamlined shield and shell designed by Alex Tremulis—who did the styling for Walt Arfons' rocket car—a pair of delta fins, a small gyroscope, and two Turbonique jet engines, which deliver a total of 200 pounds of thrust and 2,000 jet hp. For greater stability, the front wheel will automatically lock and hold the front forks dead center when he reaches the ramp.
Knievel hopes to hit 120 mph over the quarter-mile runway that will lead to the ramp. When he starts up the ramp he will throw on the jets. Within four seconds he should accelerate to between 280 and 300 mph—the speed he feels he needs to hurtle in an arc from rim to rim. He will be strapped to the machine with a safety belt, his hands will be latched to the handlebars and he will wear a space-type suit, an oxygen tank, a helmet with a radio receiver and a 26-foot parachute manufactured by Paranetics, Inc., which may be released either by a drogue gun or by pilot chutes. As Knievel approaches the far rim and is jerked from the motorcycle by the billowing chute, a lanyard connecting him and the bike will fire a drogue gun releasing another parachute that will let the motorcycle down. (When Knievel appeared on the Joey Bishop Show to publicize the Canyon jump, Dan Smith, the director, asked him, "Let me get this right, as you do this you sing The Star-Spangled Banner?")
"The motorcycle will not fly," Knievel says. "It will drop like a rock. But if the center of thrust and the center of gravity and the center of lift coincide at a center point, and if the thrust is set in the right position, and if the right amount of thrust is being applied to the back of the motorcycle, this machine will stay stable.
"What could go wrong? One, upon leaving the runway area the machine could come apart and tumble and kill me. Two, when I hit the bottom of the ramp and throw the jets on, one might not fire and I'd go cartwheeling off the ramp at such an incredible speed I don't think a man could keep his equilibrium. Three, if the motorcycle's not basically stable and starts to tumble or spin at 300 mph, I better be in damn good shape. Four, when it comes time to get off I hope I have my senses so that I can get off. I'd also like to come off on top, so that when my parachute opens the motorcycle doesn't come through it.
"I'm going to have a radio team, headed up by Joe Pyne, to keep track of my altitude and let me know, when I get halfway across, whether I have enough altitude to make it all the way. If not, they better warn me. There is a chance of a head-on collision with the opposite rim of the Canyon. Splat! Senator Metcalf asked Bobby Kennedy in my presence whether he'd head up my pick-up team if I have to abort into the Colorado River. Senator Kennedy told me he didn't know whether he would be free at the time.
"But the gravest problem is that I don't lose my nerve before I jump. Hell, I don't feel I have a problem. I have a situation. I don't have any problems in life, just situations. I'm positive I can jump the Grand Canyon because I'm a firm believer in the fact that any idea that a man can honestly conceive and honestly believe, if he wants to do the thing really bad enough, he can do it.
"I don't care if they say, 'Look, kid, you're going to drive that thing off the edge of the Canyon and die,' I'm going to do it. I want to be the first. If they'd let me go to the moon, I'd crawl all the way to Cape Kennedy just to do it. I'd like to go to the moon, but I don't want to be the second man to go there.
"It's like Indianapolis. That's great, but I don't want to join the numbers, the ranks, fall in line. Indianapolis is wonderful. I don't mean any disrespect. But I want to do something that's never been done before. Auto racers, they defy death. I stare it right in the face. I believe we were born dead. I did not ask to be put here on earth. I have accepted the fact that dying is a part of living. If I make it across the Grand Canyon, I'll be a millionaire. But I'm not all jacked up to make a big killing. I want to do this thing because I want to do this thing. I don't know if it's going to make a worthwhile contribution to society or transportation, but I'm going to do it. And the best thing about the deal is that I'm not going to make any less money if I don't do it, if I have to get off halfway across. One hundred thousand people aren't going to say 'boo.' "
Knievel believes that both the jump and the preparations for it will be an irresistible draw. "Three hundred thousand people come to the Grand Canyon every month between April and Labor Day," he says, "and all they've got to look at is the Grand Canyon." However, he may never get off the ground. Knievel is convinced that Raymond Nakai, the chairman of the Navajo Indian Tribal Council, is receptive to what Knievel calls "my program," but the 74-member council has so far refused to grant him permission to build takeoff facilities; this, despite his offer to deposit $100,000 to guarantee the wages of whatever Indians he would employ to construct the ramp, runway, access area and parking lot. (He has also offered the Navajos a percentage of any TV money, the live gate and the concessions.) "I feel I have been misled by the Navajo people," Knievel says. "They seem to be concerned about cattle grazing and erosion."
Even if Knievel finally obtains the Navajos' permission, it is not altogether clear whether he may land in the National Forest. He treasures a letter from Robert E. Vaughan, a deputy assistant secretary in the Department of the Interior, which he interprets as giving him authorization. The pertinent passage reads, "Obviously, we would have no objection to your making the jump outside of the Park." Vaughan's letter concludes: "Your self-confidence...is only mildly reassuring to those of us who have read about your plans. But you have our best wishes for success in your undertaking."
Whatever the case, Knievel is determined to jump. "I've told [Secretary of the Interior] Udall and Senator Hayden there's no way they're going to stop me," he said the other day. "Even if I have to go up there at one a.m. in the pitch dark of the morning and jump that motorcycle off the edge." A moment later he added, "I wonder what in the world I'm going to do after the Grand Canyon."
Evel Knievel was born in Butte, Mont, as Robert Craig Knievel. His father, an imported-car dealer, and his mother were separated when he was six months old, and he was raised by his paternal grandparents. As a small boy he was nicknamed Evil. "I've changed the 'i' to 'e'," he says. "I'm not evil. I don't relish doing things that aren't right." He is 29 years old, and in his wallet he carries a fortune-cookie slip that reads: "You will live long and enjoy life." He sets great store by this prediction. "A guy who owned a gas station once bet me $25 I wouldn't live to be 23," he says. "When I became 23, he wouldn't pay up. That night I conked his attendant and robbed the place of $900."
Knievel is 6'1", weighs 198 pounds, uses hair spray and is undeniably handsome. Recently, when a waitress in a Hollywood night club learned he had his heart set on jumping the Grand Canyon, she said, "Oh, God, don't let him do it. He's too beautiful to die."
"Everybody expects Evel Knievel to be a long-haired guy," Knievel says, "but I'm a conservative wildman. I am a guy who is first of all a businessman. I present myself to the public as an athlete and as an average human being. I look like a pole-vaulter." In fact, he was. His best height was 14'6", which he cleared at Fort Lewis, Wash, when he was in the Army. He has also made 30 parachute jumps, ridden in amateur rodeos and in 1957 won the Northern Rocky Mountain Ski Association Class A Men's ski jumping championship. Moreover, he was the owner, general manager, coach and star of the Butte Bombers, a semipro hockey team, and in 1959 made the Charlotte (N.C.) Clippers of the Eastern Hockey League, which he quit after the exhibition season because he felt he had no chance to reach the NHL. While he had the Bombers, he promoted a game with the Czech team, which was on its way to Squaw Valley for the 1960 Winter Olympics, and lost $8,000. "I guaranteed plane fare and hotel rooms," he says. "Thirty-seven Czechs got off the plane."
During this period Knievel was also a guide and outfitter, operating what he called the Sur-kill Guide Service. In December 1961, to protest the proposed slaughter of rangeless elk in Yellowstone National Park, he set out from Butte on a widely publicized hitchhiking trip to Washington, D.C., lugging a set of elk horns that he had hopes of presenting to President Kennedy. "Boy, it was cold," Knievel recalls. "Trucks would rush by and blow my suitcase and my horns right off the highway. On the way to see Mayor Daley in Chicago, I got the horns caught in a revolving door."
Knievel made it to Washington in seven days and 27 rides but never met the President. Mike Manatos, Kennedy's administrative assistant, accepted the horns, and Knievel was also received by Secretary Udall, to whom he pleaded his case. "I was wearing a pair of cowboy boots and carrying a briefcase that was empty," he says. "There was nothing in it at all." The day after the interview, the Department of the Interior agreed to have the elk trapped and transplanted to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
The following year Knievel broke his collarbone and shoulder in a motorcycle race and while recuperating became a salesman for the Combined Insurance Company of America, one of the largest accident and health insurance companies in the world. One day in July 1962 he sold 110 three-dollar policies to the staff of the state mental institution in Warm Springs, Mont.—a company record. He ended up the week with 271 sales. A company memorandum quotes him on this feat: "You asked me to tell you how I broke the records...well, to tell you the truth, it wasn't very hard...after I conceived in my own mind that I could do it...I enjoyed it and had a lot of fun...all it takes is accepting the challenge to do it."
Knievel left Combined when he "didn't get a positive answer" on his request to become a vice-president within two years; it was his ambition to be the youngest vice-president of any insurance company. However, he retains a high regard for the company and for its president, W. Clement Stone, whose The Success System That Never Fails is one of his four favorite books. The others are: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude by Hill and Stone and The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.
At various times in his life Knievel has been a motorcycle racer but he gave it up because there is no money in it. "I can't eat handlebars, tires and batteries," is one of his favorite sayings. Knievel also built a motorcycle racetrack and promoted races in Moses Lake, Wash., where he was a Honda dealer for two years. In that capacity, he offered $100 off the price of a motorcycle to anyone who could beat him at arm wrestling. When nobody was able to, he offered a free motorcycle to anyone who could bend his arm, with the provision that if the customer lost he would buy a motorcycle. "This farmer tied me," Knievel recalls. "I beat him right-handed and he beat me left-handed, but I talked him into buying a 150 cc anyway. I've only been beat twice in my life—a little pig rancher from Idaho and a big guy from Spokane."
In 1961 Knievel was a private policeman in Butte. This is somewhat ironic in view of the fact that, according to his own account, he had been for some years a card thief, safecracker and swindler. "I don't like to play cards unless I can cheat," says Knievel. "And if I had a $20 bill for every safe I peeled, I'd have a new Cadillac—and some of them didn't have any money in them. I can blow them, peel them, beat them. Floor safe, round door, square door, vault. I can crack a safe with one hand tied behind my back. I always got a hell of a feeling out of drilling a hole in a roof. There's no thrill like drilling a hole in the roof of some institution and dropping down a rope and looking around."
Knievel says he was perhaps even more accomplished at swindling. "I traveled with a man who was known as the greatest swindler of all time," he says. "A judge in one of the biggest cities in the world made the statement and was quoted in the newspapers, 'This man is one of the most brilliant criminals ever brought before me.' I always thought there was one more brilliant. That was me sitting in the courtroom who was never caught. We swindled institutions out of $25,000 or $30,000 within a 30-day period. I brought forth some schemes that were really brilliant, that no one in this world will ever be able to solve. I can show you a scheme that can beat any bank in this country out of any amount of money."
Knievel says he took part in an armed robbery only once. "It bothered me so much," he says. "The guy wanted to be brave. Consequently he got the hell beat out of him by me. I felt bad to have to hurt an individual to take money, even though I was doing it for a living. His blood was all over me. I did it and I got away with it, but it's not the right way of life. Why do it? Why beat someone out of money that they worked hard for, and not contribute anything to this country and what it stands for?
"There was only one time in my life I lost my sense of being able to cope with any situation. I was crossroading at the time. I was in Sacramento with a fella who had been on the 10 Most Wanted list and another safecracker who was on the verge of getting on the list. I thought of shooting myself. The pressure broke me. That was really the turning point. Either live the rest of my life with these people or.... A kid will never become a man until he looks in a mirror and tells himself he wants to become a man. I want kids and teachers to look up to me and the things I stand for. I got a letter the other day from a teacher in the John F. Kennedy Junior High School in Redwood City, California. She said the children took an interest in me and followed my jumps, that it made them more intent on learning to read. I love people. I want to be good to people. That's why I changed my whole way of life. I felt if I really loved my wife and children, I'd try to make a contribution to mankind and society as they should be contributed to."
Evel and Linda Knievel have three children—two boys, Kelly, 7, and Robbie, 5, and a girl, Tracy, 4. (Recently, the three of them were jumping off a bed. "I'm Batman," said Kelly. "I'm Superman," said Robbie. "I'm Evel Knievel," said Tracy.) When Knievel was 20 and Linda 17 he convinced her of his love by Kidnaping her. Along with a friend named Marco, Knievel went to an ice-skating rink in Butte where he knew Linda was skating. "I hid behind a garage, put on my skates and went out on the rink," he recalls. "She couldn't get away from me. I drug her by the hair and threw her in the back of the truck. 'Go, Marco, go,' I shouted. Then we got her into my car and I took off. I was driving with my ice skates on. Try it some time. We went and hid in a church. I knew they'd never look for me there. The cops and sheriffs were after me. My dad's friends took the cars off his lot and were looking for me. The Triple A basketball tournament was being played in Butte, and Linda was the head cheerleader, and she wasn't there. We started driving. It started snowing. It snowed two or three feet. We got stuck in the snow and stayed there all night. As soon as it got daylight I called a wrecker from a farmhouse. When the wrecker came, I had Linda lay down and hide in the back. There was a warrant out for my arrest. The guy in the wrecker heard the all-points bulletin. When he got us out, he radioed to the police, I just pulled that kid out of the snow, but that girl wasn't with him.' Her mother was saying, 'Oh, my God, he killed her and stuck her in a snowbank.' The cops were out probing in the snow. I tried to get to Coeur d'Alene, but I didn't have any snow tires and couldn't get over the hills. I figured I better go home and face the music. I was stopped at a roadblock. They threw me in jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. My dad put up the $500 to get me out."
Evel Knievel first became interested in jumping motorcycles when, as a boy, he saw Joey Chitwood, a famous stunt driver, jump a car. "I got a couple of doors out of my grandfather's garage and propped them up on buckets and pedaled off on my bicycle," Knievel recalls. "I kept moving the doors farther and farther apart. Finally, I missed. I broke the bicycle in half. Grandfather was afraid I was hurt. When I wasn't, he spanked me. After buying me three or four bicycles, he gave up."
Knievel put on his first motorcycle show at the Indio (Calif.) Date Festival grounds in February 1966. At the time, he had a troupe called Evel Knievel and his Motorcycle Daredevils and had seven people working for him. Today he has two—Art Parker, formerly an Army weight-lifting champion, who is his equipment foreman and drives Knievel's 60-foot trailer truck, and Boots Curtis, the advance man, who was for many years a sales manager for BSA motorcycles. Boots also drives Knievel's red Fairlane 500 XL, which pulls the motorcycle trailer and is equipped with a mobile phone. Knievel enjoys making calls while driving and is proud of his ability to remember phone numbers. "I like to tax myself like that," he says. "A man generally uses only a quarter of his brain."
At Indio, Knievel jumped over two pickups. Then he went to Hemet, Calif., where he was rained out, and overextended himself at the bank. The next stop was Barstow, Calif., where the wind blew too hard to jump. But Knievel is an all-round stunt man. For example, he can ride a parasail behind a car. "It's a pretty wild ride," he says. "But it's a lot of fun if you don't come down too hard." He once tore the rear end out of his brother's car in a strong wind, and on another occasion got up to 300 feet behind a jet car. "I don't know anyone else that parasails on asphalt behind a jet," he says. Knievel also claims he can do a wheelie—riding a motorcycle on its rear wheel—for a mile. "I once did a wheelie so far the engine sucked a valve," he says. "I've also gone through more fire walls on a motorcycle than anybody. I've raced through 25 or 30 at a crack—half-inch board soaked in gas for an hour. I don't wear no asbestos or nothing. I just go right through them. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. You got to go fast enough so you don't get burned, but not so fast you get concussed."
At Barstow, Knievel tried a stunt that is not performed anymore. It involved standing on the ground while another stunt man drove a motorcycle straight at him, and then jumping so that it passed beneath him. "Everyone there knew I was going to get hit—except me," Knievel says. "The motorcycle hit me in the groin and thighs at 60 mph when I was a foot and a half off the ground. I went up in the air 15 feet, turned a couple of flips and landed on my back. I was paralyzed. They covered me up with a blanket. They thought I was dead. My ribs were all cracked and broke. I was sprained from the bottom of my feet to my waist. About a month later, after getting out of the hospital, I went back to Barstow and put the show on. They helped me on the motorcycle. I did all the wheelies and made the jump off the ramp. I was obligated to a lot of people, a lot of banks."
Last December Knievel was in Long Beach, Calif., where, as an added attraction at the indoor motorcycle races, he was going to try to set an indoor world's-record jump of 10 cars.
The morning of his performance he was on the floor of the Sports Arena, helping Art Parker set up the ramps. Knievel was wearing white bucks. "A lady came up to me the other day," he said, "and said, 'You Pat Boone?' 'No, ma'am,' I told her, 'I'm not Pat Boone.' "
Since he would have to start his run in the lobby, he paced off the distance between the takeoff ramp and the bottom of a flight of stairs, which was as far back as he could get. "It should be 125 yards," he said, "but I'm going to try it at 90. You ever see me stop? You ever see me hit a wall? I stop just like that."
He climbed to the top of the takeoff ramp to align it with the landing ramp. Then he went upstairs and stood among the seats, gazing speculatively down at the ramps and the gulf between them.
"You got to grab and go," he said. "You got to gas that motorcycle and don't let go. Speed doesn't necessarily get distance. You got to get it up right on top of the power curve, right at the peak so that the rear wheel is driving fast off that chain. It's just like a person crouching and springing up. You got to get up on the foot pegs on the balls of your feet, hang on and guide it through the air. If you see you're going to miss, just grit your teeth. The people are going to die if I miss that thing."
He went downstairs, climbed the takeoff ramp once more and pretended to do a swan dive off it. "I'm gritting my teeth already," he said from the top of the ramp. "Man, oh, man, I'll be glad when that bike gets traction. Melvin Belli, whom I've retained to negotiate with the Navajos, told me, 'Shorten up your jumps. It scares the hell out of a person.' He thinks I'm going to get killed. If I didn't increase them, I wouldn't be where I was. Sure, a guy likes to see a guy jump. But so what if he's only jumping three or four feet.
"My thing is a serious thing. There's more to doing what I do than running that motorcycle off that ramp one time and forgetting about it. When I go to sleep at night, I know I have to do it again. I'm awful nervous. I think I have a right to be. This upsets me. If I was easy-going, I wouldn't be jumping those cars. If I was easy-going, I'd be like everybody else. I'm not the dullest person around."
"Just remember one thing," Parker said. "Don't turn that baby on and land in the third row."
"I'm jumping that son-of-a-bitch," Knievel said, "and I'll jump it as far as I want to. I don't fall too often. Haven't you heard about me? If I don't ride over my head, I miss. It's when I'm careful that I get in trouble. I don't want to be careful. I just want to go! Hey, I'm going to be a millionaire. You're looking at it. If anything happens to me, I'll still talk to you from the hospital. I'm used to going. So if you come into that room and I say, 'Which way did that truck go?' don't pay any attention to me. Sometimes I get shots and don't know what I'm saying. Just say, 'Simmer down, kid, simmer down.' "
That night, after Knievel made the jump, he said, "Well, another day, another dollar. Damn, it was a long way across. I'm sure glad she's over." He took off his helmet. "No teeth marks in this baby today," he said. "Only some old ones."
An hour later he was in the bar of his hotel, drinking stingers straight up; he also fancies King Alphonses and grasshoppers. Knievel does not smoke or drink coffee and he drinks a quart of milk a day. "I really came bursting through that door," he said. "The tach was 7,500 rpm and the speedometer was bouncing between 60 and 70. I saw those white lines going up that ramp, and I said I got to do it. The only reason I was scared of starting on the stairs was it would have bothered the chains. But wouldn't that have been wild? To run down the stairs! Vroom. Vroom. Vroom. VROOOOOM! Oh, man, I'm going to rest for a whole month—unless Boots lines something up for next weekend. On second thought I'm tired of risking my neck. Let them call me. There are so many people who know me, I don't have to fool around with those who don't.
"I wish I could have been more relaxed and put on a better show. But the people were nice. They liked me because they knew I was sincere. The people don't come to see me die. They come to see me defy death. You know, they say you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. I'm not fooling any of them any of the time. You know why I've been a success at what I'm doing? I'm always myself. I've never shunned a little boy or an old lady.
"These people helped me to get across that jump. I hate to admit it when I'm scared, but if I wasn't scared, I wouldn't be sane. When I stop being scared of that jump, I'll quit.
"I don't know what to do after a jump," he said next, "to stay hidden or go out among the people."
As John Derek told Knievel once, "You come across with a humble kind of arrogance."
Evel Knievel is driving to Las Vegas, where he will jump the fountains and then fall off his motorcycle and roll 165 feet. He is behind the wheel of a purple Rolls-Royce that he picked up the day before. "I always wanted a purple Rolls-Royce," he says. "This little jewel. Look at this oldtime stuff. Isn't it neat? You should see all the tools under the hood—little oil cans that squirt and all that stuff. Everybody should have a purple Rolls-Royce." He says he once had a sand-and-sable Rolls, and a Negro chauffeur, and at toll booths he would tip the collectors. "They'd see me coming," he says, "and they'd all be running to get in the booth in my lane."
It is raining, and Knievel is keeping her at 50 mph. "I don't like to drive fast," he says. "And I always fasten my seat belt. I don't want to give anybody a chance to kill me before I kill myself. Never worry, never fuss when Evel drives the bus."
After a while he says, "You know, an actor makes a living portraying the life of someone who has really lived. I don't want to act out the life of someone else. I'm no myth. I'm not a make-believe character. I'm really doing what I'm doing. I can't understand it when a guy looks at me and says, 'Why, you could do so much more with your life. Quit what you're doing. Do something worthwhile.' In reality, what I'm doing might make more of a contribution to man and society than, say, selling insurance. They can make themselves better salesmen, earn a lot more money, but what are they contributing to people? I'm not a stunt man. I'm not a daredevil. I'm...I'm an explorer.
"When I walk through the grandstand after a jump, they stand and applaud. Little boys shake hands with me, fathers shake hands with me. I've never seen anybody do any stunt that's impressed me. Listening to people, being motivated by them—that's what has impressed me. When they pour out of a grandstand 10,000 strong, some of them crying, some of them laughing.... "
Of a sudden, in the distance, the sky is suffused with light; he is approaching Las Vegas.
"If I keep making these jumps," he says, "I'm going to wind up dead, and I just don't want to wind up dead."
Las Vegas lies ahead, burning in the desert.
"I haven't come down this road by accident," Knievel says. "I'm here."
John Herring has finished his song, Evel Knievel. "It's got this big, broad, almost Exodus-type touch," he says. "I don't like to put him in a novelty bag when he's broken his body to do this thing."
Herring sings the first verse and chorus:
"You hear his name in every town,
Is he for real or just a clown?
You wonder how he earned his fame,
You ask yourself what is his game.
If he's a man like you and I
He has no wings—how can he fly?
He's not a bird, he's not a plane,
Is he a fool who's gone insane?
No, he's not a bird, he's not a plane,
He's not a fool and he's not insane.
He's just a man like you and I
Who has a dream so he must try.
Everybody calls him evil—
Evel, Evel Knievel."
Before his Las Vegas jump, Knievel, attired in red, white and blue leathers, addresses the crowd of thrill seekers.
Landing is the most hazardous part of Knievel's stunt. Here, in Las Vegas, he is unable to hold on to his motorcycle as it hits the ramp at 90 mph.