Cover image for Evel Knievel : an American hero
Evel Knievel : an American hero
Collins, Ace.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
x, 222 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
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GV1060.2.K58 C65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
GV1060.2.K58 C65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Traces the life of the renowned daredevil from his days as a high-school dropout and petty thief through his rise to fame and superstardom to his later years as liver-transplant survivor.

Author Notes

Ace Collins is the author of biographies of Pam Tillis, Lorrie Morgan, and many others, He lives in Hillsboro, Texas.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Evel Knievel's pop-cultural renown stems from his penchant for risking his life performing pointless acts of daredevilry, often on TV. The man is never offstage: after successful liver transplant surgery, he showed up on Fox, live from his hospital room, rooting for son Robbie's motorcycle "Death Jump." Is it any wonder that Evel's biography is long on braggadocio? Just say it is faithful to its subject. Growing up in Butte, Montana, Knievel loved to make people look, any way he could. Collins carefully brings out the good in Knievel's adolescent antics, but many neighbors considered the lad incorrigible. Little did they know that what he inflicted on them would be the basis for the adult Knievel's do-as-I-say-not-as-I-did homilies. Through diligence and the utmost attention to biographical detail, Collins comes close to making Knievel comprehensible. But he still can't explain the utility or the appeal of vaulting over buses on a motorcycle. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

Evel (n‚ Bobby) Knievel's mother wanted him to be a painter, but the young teenager from Butte, Mont., was too wild and restless for anything so stationary, preferring the rougher pleasures of petty crime, sports and motorcycle riding. This breathlessly earnest biography of the motorcycle stuntman recounts his early days as an insurance salesman who once gained company acclaim for selling 271 policies to the residents of an insane asylum. But Knievel's true calling was to attempt incredibly dangerous feats with motorcycles, and after he won a bar bet by driving a bike over a VW parked on the street, his fate was sealed. Knievel's first act had him jumping two cougars and a box of angry rattlesnakes, and though he actually smashed open the box of snakes, he was encouraged to move on to bigger and better stunts. The number of cars, beginning at 10, kept getting larger, and the consequences of his crashes getting more severe, until 1968, when he attempted to jump over Caesar's Palace Fountains, failed and almost died. Though he did not, as was often claimed afterwards, break every bone in his body, it was probably as much his strange ability to heal and his willingness to reinjure himself as it was his motorcycling abilities that enabled him to continue performing. The desire to jump the Grand Canyon fascinated Knievel, but the federal government thwarted him, forcing him to settle for a crossing of Snake River Canyon in 1974. His rocket/motorcycle contraption malfunctioned, causing him to parachute into the river. Knievel emerged unscathed, but his career went the way of the bike, leaving him with a jail term for beating up a writer, massive liver failure and the exploits of his son Robbie to contemplate in his later years. Pictures not seen by PW. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Evel Knievel was a world-renowned motorcycle showman and daredevil whose performance jumps, both successful and unsuccessful, were seen by millions in person or on television. Some jumps seemed outlandish or suicidal, such as ones over Las Vegas's Caesar's Palace fountains or the aborted leap of Idaho's Snake River Canyon, but these also characterized Knievel's showmanship, promotional talent, and unceasing drive to test limits and challenge risk. That he survives today after numerous body-wrenching crashes is testimony not only to good fortune but also to his tenacity and mysterious strength of will. Collins's well-written account is largely admiring of Knievel and the physical and character traits that propelled him through his unique career, yet it is also honest and critical about the performer's personal problems and failings. What clearly shows is a life lived on the edge, in constant challenge and defiance of the oddsÄa life that has somehow triumphed over those frequently long odds. A good bet for public libraries.ÄDavid B. Van De Streek, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., York de Gaulle Anthonioz, GeneviŠve. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1 Butte -- The City That Created Evel On May 26, 1863, six tired, scared, and haggard prospectors camped near a creek in the Tobacco Root Mountains in what is now Montana. The men were running for their lives, trying to elude a relentless and fierce band of Crow Indians. The natives resented the white men's presence on the tribe's hunting grounds. For days the English-speaking fugitives had stayed just one jump away from their pursuers and death. Exhausted, worn, and unable to go any further without rest, the men made a camp in a ravine that could be defended from a surprise attack. As they rested in what they would soon name Alder Gulch, they felt a sense of security for the first time in weeks. As the night came and no Indians raided their camp, they began to believe they might live to see home again. The next day the six should have quickly packed up and headed to civilization. Yet the lure of the beautiful land beckoned them. Seeing no Crow braves, they decided to take one more stab at discovering the elusive dream that had driven them for months. Pulling out their equipment, the prospectors stole a few moments to pan for gold in the cool, clear waters of the stream by their camp. Not only did the morning sun reveal a few shiny nuggets in their first pan, but with each new pan more gold appeared. Soon the men who had been running for their lives were determined to hold their ground. The claim they uncovered not only more than paid for their months away from home and their brush with death, it started the Rush of '63. The Crow hunting grounds were soon to be the filled with greedy white men. Within a year more than fifteen thousand had joined those first six prospectors, and within five years combined forces of men who had come from all around the world in search of easy wealth had mined more than thirty million dollars in gold from the stream and area surrounding Alder Gulch. The vein of gold didn't end there either. More than a decade later those willing to gamble everything they had were still striking it rich. "Gold" was the cry, and thousands jumped at the chance to find some of their own. When the precious yellow metal began to play out, there was something else to take its place. Huge quantities of silver were discovered in the hills around Butte. The silver was dug out of the earth in even greater bulk than the gold. It seemed to be everywhere. Then while looking for more silver and gold, a prospector discovered a mountain of copper. And just as the silver began to play out, the Anaconda Mining Company and scores of others cashed in on the next precious metal. First with gold, then silver and finally copper, Butte exploded. Long before anyone had considered how to plan it, a rough-and-tumble city grew down the hill and through the valley and draws. Filled with men whose lust for life was almost as large as their lust for wealth, Butte became not only a center of mining, but a center for sin. Violence erupted as quickly as another prospecter found another deep vein. Men were shot over everything from jumped claims to cheating at cards. The millions that were made brought not only wealth, but trouble. Brothels, bars, and gambling dens lined street after street, and just as the Old West was dying, this Montana city was filled with the kind of lawlessness that Dodge, Tombstone, and other legendary Western communities had finally put behind them. In a land where harsh elements made living a challenge, the riches in the ground drew men who didn't mind pain, hardship, and facing death as long as there was a chance of glory and riches on the other end. It might seem hard to believe today, but Butte was once unimaginable in its decadent splendor. There were the richly furnished "parlor houses" served by Chinese servants and well-groomed girls. There were hundreds of prostitutes from all over the world who catered to the needs of those who risked their lives searching for wealth. Belle Rhodes, Mabel Loy, and Molly De Murska offered the most beautiful women of all races. During copper's boom it was not unusual for a man to spend several thousand dollars in a single evening on wine, women, and entertainment. New millionaires lit cigars with greenbacks and tossed gold coins around as if they were candy. For almost two decades the abundance of wealth and the dens of pleasure made Butte a millionaire's sinful playground. This was a city that believed in excess and living large. The community was filled with people who were anxious to play the part of the Diamond Jim Brady of the West. Besides the brothels there were dozens of theaters such as Owsley's Hall, Renshaw Hall, Sutton's Union Family Theatre, Speek's Hall, Gordon's Comique Theatre, and McGuire's Grand Opera House lining downtown streets. Because of these fabulous music houses built by the mines' treasures, the city regularly drew entertainment troops led by the likes of Eddie Foy, William A. Brady, Rose Osborn, and Maude Adams. Under imported chandeliers and lit by the brightest of Edison's lights, Butte looked like a western Broadway. It was one of the grand entertainment capitals of the West. If you had the money, you could see the greatest entertainers of the time in Butte. If you hadn't struck it rich or you had lost all your money in a card game, then there were horse and dog racing, bear wrestling, and cockfights. There were also dice games, blackjack, and poker. You could bet on anything and everything seemed to be sport. Along with thousands of amateurs, Butte welcomed the best players of the day. During the boom days Jack Dempsey even fought for the heavyweight title in the city. It was the city where big events were born and where dreams came true in big ways. It was a showman's paradise, and the lure of wealth, excitement, and the high life attracted as many suckers as it did high rollers. Fistfights, illegal gambling, prostitution, and even the female slave trade were all practiced out in the open, and the law was not in place to keep the peace so much as it was to settle disputes between gamblers and prostitutes with as little death as possible. As it was generally accepted that might ruled and the weak perished, the "sinful" behavior practiced by even many of the town's most respected businessmen was usually ignored and at times even accepted. Yet the party couldn't last forever. As the ore played out and prospectors gave way to big companies, life began to change. Instant millionaires became a thing of the past and the big players moved to other cities. By the twenties the frontier town founded on gold had become a blue-collar community trying to redefine itself. But Butte still couldn't completely shake off its wild past. Those who continued to drink in the saloons, play poker at the casinos, and bet on the local horse racers were now copper miners. They still dreamed of making it big on one race or one lucky hand. They still tried to beat the odds. When they didn't win they drank and tried to forget the hard life that slowly sapped their strength and their health. Just like the prospectors who had first discovered gold along Alder's Creek, these strong men gambled for the highest stakes every day they worked. Their lives were as uncertain as the ever-changing Montana weather. Climbing in a hole that went down for thousands of feet, surrounded by eternal darkness, working in conditions that made the image of hell seem almost friendly, the miners knew life didn't really offer any second chances. One mistake and they were history. One misstep and the money they had in their pockets would never be spent. Their lives were spent on the edge. They realized they could die in an instant. They also realized that before their bodies had even been dug out of the pit, another man would have signed up to do their job. Old miners were more fable than reality. Most believed that if you worked in the mines you would die young. For a copper miner there was no time or motivation to dream, no time to plan ahead or reason to consider retirement and no reason to save money. Every month someone lost his life in the holes. Many times men died by the dozens. It was accepted. With cave-ins, explosions, floods, and sudden bursts of poison gases, the life of a miner was a life where death was a constant. With life so cheap, few blamed those who played out their extra hours gambling, drinking, cheating, and cussing as if those moments were their last on earth. It was a mentality brought on by the mines and it was the overriding attitude of almost everyone who called this city home. Though the mines were still the heart and soul of the area's commerce, by the Depression the glory days of mining were fast becoming a part of Butte's history. Yet the spirit and attitudes created by those days were still very much a part of the town's life. In spite of attempts by countless clergymen to "save" the people of Butte, in spite of civic leaders who again and again tried to clean up the city's image, many citizens still drank hard, partied long, and lived life as if death was just around the corner. So on October 17, 1938, the day Robert Craig Knievel was born, Butte's western heritage was very much alive, and the wild elements of the frontier days were not as much a part of the past but of the present. Evel Knievel probably couldn't have come out of anyplace else but this Montana town. In everything he would do, he represented the city's history. He would have easily fit in with that first band of prospectors, the rich mining barons, the lowly miners, and even those who tried to clean the town up. And as impossible as it sounds, at one time or another, he would have made all those groups proud. Evel's story, born in the Big Sky Country and taken to the world, is unique, unbelievable, and truly American. Yet without Butte, the daredevil probably would have never captured the world's spotlight and become the last gladiator of a modem Rome. It was this city that gave him his name and gave him the stuff that made him a star. Here, surrounded by history and the cruel life of the mines, the boy would grow into a man. And the stubborn courage this man would exhibit in arenas around the world, the constant excesses he embraced at every stage of his life, his thirst for adventure and fame, were born of the fabric of those who grew up in the shadow of Butte's colorful history. EVEL KNIEVEL: AN AMERICAN HERO. Copyright (c) 1999 by Ace Collins. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Excerpted from Evel Knievel: An American Hero by Ace Collins All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
1. Butte--The City That Created Evelp. 1
2. The Evil Eyep. 7
3. Bobby Embraces Evilp. 19
4. Evil Daysp. 33
5. Trying to End the Evil Waysp. 51
6. Bobby Becomes Evelp. 63
7. Evel Alonep. 79
8. Evel Bounces Backp. 91
9. Caesar's Hails Evelp. 103
10. Evel Cheats Deathp. 117
11. Evel Returnsp. 127
12. Evel Arrives in Stylep. 137
13. Evel As an Iconp. 147
14. Evel on Tourp. 165
15. Evel Meets the Snakep. 183
16. Time Overtakes Evelp. 195
17. The Worst of Evelp. 207
18. Evel Cheats Death Againp. 213