Who was Evel Knievel and what were his greatest stunts?

Discover more about the amazing career of the legendary stuntman.

Extreme sports fans won’t want to miss the adrenaline rush of Evel Knievel Live on the History channel.

American motorsports professional Travis Pastrana will attempt three of the star’s most death-defying stunts in Las Vegas, Nevada riding a modern-day recreation of Knievel’s bike.

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But who was Evel Knievel, and what were the incredible stunts he was famous for?

Who was Evel Knievel?

Evel Knievel was one of the world’s greatest stuntmen, whose hair-raising motorbike jumps were infamous for being spectacular but incredibly dangerous.

Born Robert Craig Knievel Jr in Montana in 1938, the young Knievel went to an auto daredevil show aged eight which he later said inspired his career.

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Knievel was in and out of trouble during his younger years – he was sacked from a mining company when he did a wheelie on an earth mover and cut off the city’s electricity supply; he set up a hunting guide service that poached animals from Yellowstone National Park – and during one night in a jail cell he invented his stage name after discovering that another prisoner was known as William “Awful” Knofel.

The renamed Evel Knievel tried out a number of sports including rodeo, ski jumping, ice hockey and pole vaulting, but got into motocross around the time that he decided to stop committing crimes.

Always looking for ways to support his young family, Knievel began touring a daredevil motorbike show with ever more terrifying stunts.

He became as famous for his flashy leather jumpsuits as he was for his stunts, and claimed to be uninsurable thanks to their deadly risk, saying that Lloyd’s of London had turned him down for life and accident insurance 37 times.

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Knievel’s jumps often ended in crashes and he got into the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of most broken bones in a lifetime, although reports of the exact number are said to be exaggerated and could be anywhere between 35 and 433.

The stunt performer died in 2007 aged 69, from pulmonary disease.

What were his greatest stunts?

Box of Rattlesnakes, Moses Lake, Washington

This was one of Knievel’s first stunts, taking place in 1965 when he put on a daredevil show by himself.

He did all of the show organising, even down to writing the press release and being his own MC, before taking to his 350cc Honda and proceeding to jump over a twenty-foot long box of rattlesnakes. 

Knievel landed slightly short and hit the edge of the box, but delighted fans by throwing in a bonus jump over two mountain lions.

Two Pick-Up Trucks, Indio, California

By 1966, Knievel had realised the incredible potential that his own stunt show had and had found a sponsor, as well as starting to perform under the stage name Evel Knievel.

The crowd went wild for his Norton Atlas motorbike jump over two pick-up trucks, a distance of 45 feet.

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Caesar’s Palace Fountain, Las Vegas, Nevada

In 1967, Knievel decided to mark New Year’s Eve with his biggest jump yet, 141 feet over the iconic fountains outside of Caesar’s Palace Hotel in Las Vegas.

But disaster struck the stunt when his Triumph Bonneville T120 motorbike lost acceleration on its final approach. Although he cleared the fountain, he hit the ramp at the other side awkwardly and came off the bike.

Knievel spent 29 days in hospital with a crushed pelvis and femur, fractured hip, wrist and ankles, and concussion.

Just four months after being discharged, he was back on his bike and jumped over 13 cars.

Ten Buses, Wembley Stadium, London

Knievel took his show across the pond in 1975 when he booked out Wembley Stadium for another death-defying stunt.

The stadium was packed with 90,000 people who came to watch him jump over 10 single-decker buses on his Harley Davidson XR-750.

But again, the landing didn’t go to plan as Knievel failed to clear the final bus, breaking his pelvis and hand.

He refused to be stretchered off, saying: “I came in walking, I went out walking.”

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Fourteen Greyhound Buses, Kings Island Theme Park, Ohio

The failed jump at Wembley had prompted Knievel to announce his retirement, but five months later he was back in the saddle of an XR-750 and aiming to jump 14 Greyhound buses.

It was a total jump of 133 feet and the longest successful jump of his career, as well as the last big one.

Knievel’s record for jumping the most buses on a Harley Davidson stood for 24 years, until Bubba Blackwell broke it in 1999.

Evel Knievel live is on the History channel on Monday, July 9 at 9pm.

History is one of 60 premium channels available on BT TV along with other channels such as E!, Comedy Central, National Geographic and many more.

> BT broadband customer? Get BT TV 

> Not yet with BT? Find out the great ways you can get BT TV here

> BT TV customer? Head to channel 327 to watch History, or visit the BT Player

(Photos: Sky, Rex, PA)

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