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Original Issue

THE FUN OF THE FLOP

SUPER DAVE OSBORNE WAS THE MASTER OF NOT LANDING ON HIS FEET

THE STAR-CROSSED stuntman Super Dave Osborne—whose creator, comic actor Bob Einstein, died on Jan. 2, at 76—invented an art form that America's Funniest Videos would later bring to the masses: televised testicular trauma.

In demonstrating the rules of boxing, the former heavyweight champ George Foreman used Super Dave's groin as a heavy bag. A golfer was invited to drive a ball off a tee held in the teeth of a supine Super, but he struck the daredevil in the groin instead. By the time a blindfolded Osborne stepped into the Dodger Stadium batter's box to face Mets fireballer Dwight Gooden in the mid-1980s, Super Dave fans were crossing their legs in preemptive dread. Gooden's first pitch, a fastball, drilled Osborne in the groin as his friend Garv—Padres first baseman Steve Garvey—looked on in horror, having recommended an open stance.

In hindsight, Super Dave should have worn a cup instead of his signature kneepads "made from the finest Saskatchewan sealskin bindings." But then, Super used only the most exquisite materials for his stunts. His "spring shoes" featured in an early-'90s Nike ad campaign were "reinforced with Andean tungsten" and covered in "Saskatchewan salmon skin." (Oh, how he loved that landlocked Canadian province.) While attempting to dunk in his spring shoes, Osborne overshot his mark and shattered a glass backboard with his face.

Resilience is an overused word in sports, but Super Dave—whether accordion-squashed, pancake-flattened or stretched like Turkish taffy—always returned to his original shape, a good thing, given his 100% failure rate as a stuntman. He once rode shotgun in a race car driven by Ray Charles. No wonder his stunt coordinator, Fuji Hakayito, was best known for his catchphrase: "It's not my fault."

Johnny Carson called Super Dave "the greatest superstar daredevil of our day," but so did everyone, because Osborne insisted on it. With his self-anointed nickname, relentless self-branding (wallets, watches, T-shirts) and fleet of vanity-plated cars, one of which was crushed into a cube while he was still in it, he may have been the first modern professional athlete. He was name-checked by countless hip-hop artists, including Tupac Shakur ("Smoke blunts but leave them stunts up to Super Dave") and Ice Cube ("We'll have to break his ass up like Super Dave").

Osborne didn't suffer the foolish questions of sports journalists. When he fell off Toronto's CN Tower, then the tallest man-made structure in the world, and landed facedown in a parking lot, Los Angeles sportscaster Mike Walden asked him how it felt. "Why are you talking to me?" Super replied. "I've got about a minute to live. I need an ambulance. Help me, putz." An ambulance arrived seconds later, only to run Osborne over.

One of Super Dave's many appearances on David Letterman's late-night show was interrupted by a persistent ringing, for which Super apologized. "I bought one of those SPORTS ILLUSTRATED shoe phones," he explained, gazing balefully at his right sneaker.

"You know," Letterman replied, "you're not supposed to wear that."

But Super Dave could wear anything. His star-spangled white jumpsuit and visored crash helmet were an homage to Evel Knievel. When Robbie Knievel jumped the fountains at Caesars Palace in 1989—something his father famously failed to do—Osborne was there to greet him on the other side. And now Super Dave himself has crossed over, having slipped the surly, sealskin bonds of Earth. May the road rise up to meet him, but softly this time.