Friday, November 30, 2007

Happy landings

Evel Knievel has just cleared 69 years, and come down on the Other Side.

In the world to which I was born, Knievel's name was pretty much a synonym for awesome, sort of a cross between Fonzie and Captain America. As a boy I owned the Evel Knievel motorcycle set: you got a plastic molded daredevil in the trademark red, white, and blue, complete with the little cape, and a toy motorcycle (which he may have been permanently molded into, I can't recall). You set up the ramps, and took a long plastic dipstick with teeth along one edge, that fitted into a slot. Slide it in, yank it to rev the wheels, and then send Mini-Knievel careening past the ramp and directly into the wall. The miniature version would successfully scale the first ramp maybe once every ten tries, only to wipe out on the other end.

I sent that poor thing down the stairs, into bookshelves, and tried to jump the cat (who was too smart to stay still for the attempt). The only difference was that the plastic version never broke sixteen bones and spent two months in the hospital.

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.

Well... Rundel's metaphor is flawed, but I understand the feeling. Thirty years after his aborted jump of Snake River Canyon, he was sent up on an episode of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. It was unmistakeably meant to be him - the sadness of it was that they chose to make him an old, pill-addicted shell of the Knievel that we always pictured: brave, rugged, dressed like a superhero, ready to literally leap tall buildings at a single bound, armed with nothing more than his courage and optimism. Every X-Games stunt rider on Earth owes him big-time.

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