Daredevil knew we couldn't not watch

  • Updated: November 30, 2007 - 8:00 PM

** FILE ** Famed daredevil stunt rider, Evel Knievel shown in this March 26, 1989 photo. Knievel, the hard-living motorcycle daredevil whose exploits made him an international icon in the 1970s, died Friday, Nov. 30, 2007. He was 69. (AP Photo/David Cantor, file)

Photo: David Cantor, Associated Press

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CLEARWATER, FLA. - Evel Knievel is dead.

That sentence probably should have been written in 1968, when the daredevil crashed his motorcycle spectacularly as he jumped the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and wound up in a coma.

It probably should have been written in 1974, when his rocket-powered cycle failed as he tried to jump Idaho's Snake River Canyon and he almost landed in the raging water. Or the numerous other times he battered himself while trying to jump something bigger than ever.

Instead, it was written Friday. Natural causes. Age 69.

"It's been coming for years, but you just don't expect it. Superman just doesn't die, right?" said longtime friend and promoter Billy Rundle, who organizes the annual Evel Knievel Days festival in the daredevil's hometown of Butte, Mont.

Rundle said Knievel had trouble breathing at his Clearwater condominium Friday and died before an ambulance could get him to a hospital.

Knievel had been in failing health for years, suffering from diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable condition that scarred his lungs. He had undergone a liver transplant in 1999 after nearly dying of hepatitis C, likely contracted through a blood transfusion after one of his many spills. He also suffered two strokes recently.

Immortalized in the Washington's Smithsonian Institution as "America's Legendary Daredevil," the red-white-and-blue-spangled showman became an international icon with a host of sensational jumps and bruising failures. 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."

For the tall, thin daredevil, the limelight was always comfortable.

"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."

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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  • ** FILE ** Daredevil motorcyclist Evel Knievel sails over 13 Mack trucks in the open-air Canadian national exhibition stadium in Toronto, Canada, in this Aug. 20, 1974, file photo. Knievel, the hard-living motorcycle daredevil whose exploits made him an international icon in the 1970s, died Friday, Nov. 30, 2007. He was 69. (AP Photo/File)

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