Listening to the radio news headlines, right after Left, Right and Center, and hearing mention of Evel Knievel's death had me ruminating. One of the more surprising things about a fair amount of celebrity deaths? That they were still alive in the first place. Wife-X agreed. Old Evel, well I guess I'd given up on him long ago.
For a while back there it really was The Greatest Show On Earth. A time when people rolled into Vegas to see prizefighters not Celine Dion. Instead of the Mystere, you got a man on a motorcycle jumping a pool of ravenous sharks. It seems a pleasantly ancient time, when if not dinosaurs, at least Giants Walked the Earth. There was Ali, there was Elvis, and there was Evel Knievel.
Evel Knievel was a country boy, he loved the USA and he thanked his god for his good fortune, but with more than a touch of the Saint Augustine's about it. He was Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis rolled into one, the carnival barker and the showman. He crashed into buses and he crashed into canyons... And he did it with some of the highest television ratings ever recorded. He was in every respect the greatest stuntman in the world.
At the old Wembley Stadium, he cleared a world record 13 double decker buses and crashed upon landing. It was a media event that launched the greatest toy on earth, Evel Knievel's Stunt Cycle and Action figure. Truly, the Wii of it's day. If you didn't have one (I didn't) you were most likely raised by wolves, a deprived child - and most likely to seek out only instant gratification throughout the remainder of your sorry existence as some pleasurable but ultimately poor compensation for your parents' adherence to, right down to, dotting the i's and crossing the t's of Philip Larkins poetry. But I digress.
Evel's bus hopping record was later bettered by one Eddie Kidd, failed stuntman, failed pop singer (except for that Tony Blackburn record of the week). But Eddie Kidd was not risking his hide on a Harley Davidson. And Evel he was jumping over everything by then like he could literally stick to the sky. It was just the small matter of the landings...
Even Evel's heroic failures put places on the map while netting millions of dollars. I am not sure I had even heard of the Grand Canyon before Evel said he would jump it. Now they have a sky bridge which if you look down, gives you pretty much the same view Evel would've gotten about 3 seconds into the jump if the government had ever allowed him to do it. It's a long way down and it was a long way down from the Grand Canyon for Evel Knievel. The Grand Canyon jump eventually became the Snake River Canyon jump - now I don't think I'd heard of Snake River Canyon before Evel went there with his Sky Cycle. Still a long way down though.
There were the wilderness years and of course there was a new liver. Most recently, noted aesthete - (have you seen his interiors?) - Kayne West, appreciating the value the Knievel brand sprinkled it cheekily all over one of his videos. That matter resolved by lawyers only in late November.
But oh that fickle finger of fate which only exists cleverly and uselessly as some sort backwards pointing device has Knievel dying in his bed. Me, I've lived most of my life in mine but will probably go in a fiery motorcycle wreck racing my neighbors' Suzuki down the crack alley at the back of the house.