Friday 19 April 2013

Daredevil Resists Devil

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An eight-year-old boy sat in the stands of the Joie Chitwood Auto Daredevil Show.  As the cars whizzed past him, he was glued to his seat.  He decided that day that he would become a daredevil himself.  Twenty years later, he would drive his motorcycle over a canyon, a coliseum and a fountain.

Robert Craig Knievel was born and raised in Butte, Montana to a German-American father and an Irish-American mother.  His parents split when he was young and he was raised by his grandparents.  He first learned how to ride a bike and pedalled around town with a sack of newspapers, outselling any other paper boy.  Later he learned how to ride a motorcycle, doing wheelies around the local copper mines.

He married young and struggled to find a way to support his new wife, Linda.  He got hired to work in one of the mines, but was fired after popping a wheelie on an earth mover and ramming a powerline, disabling the city's power supply for hours.  He was also reckless on the roads and soon was jailed for reckless driving.  Spending the night in jail, his neighbour in the next cell was a criminal named "Awful Knofel".  The jailer started calling Robert "Evel Kneivel" and it stuck.

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By the mid-1960's, Evel was performing stunts.  By the late 1960's, he was attracting nationwide attention. He road his motorcycle over 13 busses in London's Wembley Stadium.  He soared over the Los Angeles Coliseum.  He even flew over Snake River Canyon in a James Bond style rocket contraption.  For as many successful jumps he completed, he also had wipe outs.

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Likely his most famous accident happened in Las Vegas when he attempted to leap over the Caesar's Palace fountain.  The video footage shows him crashing as he lands, flying off his motorcycle and landing like a rag doll, unconscious.  Miraculously, he woke up, but only after 29 days in a coma.  Frank Gifford covered one of his jumps in which he crashed, broke his pelvis and walked away from the accident.  In total, Evel suffered 433 broken bones, earning him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

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Not only was Evel Knievel a successful stuntman, he was also a successful self-promoter, being called a "modern day P.T. Barnum".  He managed to secure television coverage for many of his stunts.  Wide World of Sports covered many of these stunts which were watched by thousands.  One stunt earned the number one spot in the television ratings for ABC.

No longer struggling financially, Evel wrote in his book Evel Ways that he lived better than any king, prince or president.  He owned Ferraris, Lambourghinis, Rolls Royces and jets.  He would send both jets up at once so that he could ride in one and look out the window at the other with his name painted on the side.  Evel was living the high life.  Soon he was womanizing as well.

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Evel retired from stunt performing and his son Robbie took over the reins.  In the late 1990's, Evel's marriage disintegrated.  He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, contracted by one of the many blood transfusions he had after his crashes.  Evel struggled with his health, coming within days of death when he was given a liver transplant.  His world came crashing down.  

In 2007, Evel took a different type of leap, a leap of faith.  One day, after much prayer, he felt God reach out and grab him.  He felt an overwhelming presence.  He yelled out "Devil, get away!"  He gave his life to Christ.  He went on to be baptized at the Crystal Cathedral.  Evel passed away shortly thereafter.  But he was a changed man.  He knew where he was going.  And he wasn't afraid.

Evel Knievel's baptism at the Crystal Cathedral courtesy 

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