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How Evel Knievel Worked


Evel Knievel: Daredevil's Heyday
Evel Knievel approaches the landing ramp with his motorcycle during his unsuccessful effort to leap over 13 buses in London, England, on May 25, 1975.
Evel Knievel approaches the landing ramp with his motorcycle during his unsuccessful effort to leap over 13 buses in London, England, on May 25, 1975.
AP Photo

A crowd of 70,000 at London's Wembley stadium, plus millions more watching on ABC's Wide World of Sports, saw Evel Knievel jump 13 buses, only to crash on the landing and slide across the stadium floor with his Harley-Davidson motorcycle slamming into him an instant later. As medics rushed to the downed daredevil, he insisted on leaving the arena on foot and he asked for a microphone.

Still reeling, he told the crowd that they were "the last people in the world who will ever see me jump. I will never, ever, ever, ever jump again. I am through" [source: Laracy]. Then, despite his horrible injuries, Evel Knievel walked out of the stadium.

Like a lot of Knievel's landings, his words didn't stick either. Just five months later he successfully jumped 14 Greyhound buses at Kings Island Amusement Park in Ohio -- a jump that remains the highest-rated telecast of ABC's Wide World of Sports.

While Knievel and his bike were soaring, his popularity was, too. Knievel claimed that the Evel Knievel toys grossed more than $300 million. Two movies were made about him, and he starred as himself in another. Of his seven jumps on ABC's Wide World of Sports, five were successful.

Still, his career had taken a toll on his body. Knievel reportedly broke more than 40 bones in his lifetime. And then, in 1977, he was convicted of beating his former press agent and spent six months in jail. Financial mismanagement meant the daredevil lost much of his earnings. In 1980, his health forced him to retire from performing, although he still made personal appearances and promoted the career of his son, Robbie Knievel, who followed in his dad's footsteps. In addition to enduring hard crashes, Evel Knievel endured some hard living, too. Always a heavy drinker, Knievel suffered from hepatitis C, and even underwent a liver transplant in 1999.


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