Daredevil Evel Knievel dies


In this image originally released by Warner Brothers, Daredevil motorcyclist Evel Knievel is seen in 1977.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

CLEARWATER - Evel Knievel, the red-white-and-blue-spangled motorcycle daredevil whose jumps over crazy obstacles including Greyhound buses, live sharks and Idaho's Snake River Canyon made him an international icon in the 1970s, died Friday. He was 69.

Knievel's death was confirmed by his granddaughter, Krysten Knievel. He had been in failing health for years, suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable condition that scarred his lungs.

Knievel had undergone a liver transplant in 1999 after nearly dying of hepatitis C, likely contracted through a blood transfusion after one of his bone-shattering spills.

Longtime friend and promoter Billy Rundel said Knievel had trouble breathing at his Clearwater condominium and died before an ambulance could get him to a hospital.

"It's been coming for years, but you just don't expect it. Superman just doesn't die, right?'' Rundel said.

Immortalized in Washington's Smithsonian Institution as "America's Legendary Daredevil,'' Knievel was best known for a failed 1974 attempt to jump Snake River Canyon on a rocket-powered cycle and a spectacular crash at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. He suffered nearly 40 broken bones before he retired in 1980.

"I think he lived 20 years longer than most people would have'' after so many injuries, said his son Kelly Knievel, 47. "I think he willed himself into an extra five or six years.''

Though Knievel dropped off the pop culture radar in the '80s, the image of the high-flying motorcyclist clad in patriotic, star-studded colors was never erased from public consciousness. He always had fans and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years.

His death came just two days after it was announced that he and rapper Kanye West had settled a federal lawsuit over the use of Knievel's trademarked image in a popular West music video.

Knievel made a good living selling his autographs and endorsing products. Thousands came to Butte, Mont., every year as his legend was celebrated during the "Evel Knievel Days'' festival, which Rundel organizes.

"They started out watching me bust my ass, and I became part of their lives,'' Knievel said. "People wanted to associate with a winner, not a loser. They wanted to associate with someone who kept trying to be a winner.''

For the tall, thin daredevil, the limelight was always comfortable, the gab glib. To Knievel, there always were mountains to climb, feats to conquer.

"No king or prince has lived a better life,'' he said in a May 2006 interview with The Associated Press. "You're looking at a guy who's really done it all. And there are things I wish I had done better, not only for me but for the ones I loved.''

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