Comprehensive, satisfying biography of the self-proclaimed "P.T.
Barnum for the modern age."Robert Craig Knievel and brother Nick
were raised by their paternal grandparents in depression-era
Montana. A youthful ladies' man, "Bobby" carried his inherent charm
into high school, where he excelled in sports rather than
academics. Fiercely independent, he left school at 16 to enlist in
the Army, got married and had a son, yet continued to get into
petty local mischief. He doggedly pursued his love of cycling and
eventually found a way to make it pay. After jumping over mountain
lions, snakes and Mack trucks, Evel (a nickname of debatable
origins) kicked his daredevil days into high gear with a jump over
the Caesar's Palace fountains in 1967, which placed the white
jump-suited stuntman into a month-long coma. His subsequent
Herculean acts of daring, which frequently ended in crashes, were
bolstered by his brilliant mastery of self-promotion. In 1974,
after seven years of painstaking planning, the 35-year-old Knievel
attempted to jump Idaho's Snake River Canyon, but crash-landed. His
judgment was even more impaired when it came to money and women; he
spent far more than the millions he'd earned and during his 38-year
marriage had relations with more than 2,000 women (at least
according to first-time author Barker's speculations). He spent six
months in prison on assault charges and in 1981, pursued by the IRS
for tax evasion, vanished for several years. Encouraged by '70s
nostalgia, a hip replacement and a liver transplant, Knievel came
out of hiding in his mid-50s long enough to enjoy the media
spotlight. Rock operas, roller coasters and bendable action figures
notwithstanding, his self-feted "accomplishments" were more than
matched by the mess he made of his life. But Barker earnestly
provides a sympathetic spin by noting that Knievel's greatest
stunts occurred during a time in American history when people
"badly needed a hero and an escape from the depressing events."Keen
and compassionate. (Kirkus Reviews)
A searching and at times harrowing re-appraisal of the life of Evel
Knievel, the seventies American icon and the greatest daredevil
motorcyclist that ever lived. Now fully updated in paperback with
the story of the last few years of his life and his death in 2007.
Stuart Barker's definitive biography captures the super-star status
that Knievel held and also examines the marketing phenomenon of a
man who once boasted he `made $60 million and blew $63 million'.
Born in the town of Butte, Montana in 1938, Robert Craig Knievel
was an outstanding athlete, ski jumper and ice hockey player at
school. His early jobs included working in the copper mines and
driving a bus as well as a stint in the US Army, but he always
subsidised his income through crime ('I could crack a safe with one
hand tied behind my back quicker than you could eat a hamburger
with two.') He used bikes to escape from the police and eventually
hit upon the idea of jumping them after seeing a stunt driver jump
cars at a state fair. His first jump took place over two mountain
lions and a box of rattlesnakes, and he soon developed his act into
the 'Evel Knievel Motorcycle Daredevils' before embarking on a solo
career. Knievel suffered 37 breaks and fractures during his
daredevil career. In 1967 he spent 29 days in a coma after an
attempt to jump over the fountains outside Caesar's Palace casino
in Las Vegas. While recovering, he decided to make his goal to jump
the Grand Canyon, an attempt he was forced to abort by the US
Government; and later was paid $1 million for jumping over 13
double-decker buses at Wembley Stadium. Now, a quarter of a century
after he last stepped off a motorcycle, he has been reborn as the
originator of Xtreme sports. This, alongside his love of gambling,
women and drinking, ensure his legend will live forever. Life of
Evel is the story of a truly extreme personality.
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