"Superman just doesn't die, right?"
Billy Rundel, Evel Knievel's longtime manager on the passing of Knievel.
Evel Knievel, the 1970s daredevil who spent his life defying death in front of millions with seemingly impossible motorcycle jumps, died from illness behind closed doors Friday, November 30th. He was 69.
Knievel's death comes after fighting for many years of poor health, including such conditions as hepatitis C, diabetes, a liver transplant, two strokes and a three-year bout with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that scarred the lung tissue and made it difficult to breathe.
Evel Knievel is shown in his rocket before his failed attempt at a highly promoted 3/4-mile leap across Snake River Canyon. (AP Photo)
As a child of the 70's, this news deeply saddens me. A part of my childhood is gone.
Like many kids of the era, I wanted to be Evel Knievel. Who wouldn't?
I wanted to soar through the air.
I wanted the white jumpsuit with the American flag plunging V-neck top. I wanted the cape that flapped in the wind as I did the impossible.
I wanted to be the one on ABC's Wide World of Sports that all the kids crowded around the TVs on Saturdays to see how my latest jump went.
Sure, I knew it wasn't going to happen, but that didn't stop my friends and I from taking our bicycles to find something to jump over. Driveway curbs, makeshift ramps made from plywood and extra bricks, or whatever else we could find. It didn't matter to us. For that split-second we could get airbound, we were just like Evel. We could be the next great stuntman.
Of course, the regular sight of Knievel crashing stopped us from trying to jump something too crazy. None of us wanted to be lying in a hospital bed with every bone in our body broken.
However, that's what made Evel Knievel so special. Even when he did crash during one of his jumps, you always knew that he'd be back to try again, and it would be something even bigger than before.
Knievel's showmanship, skill and disdain for death were stuff of folk heroes. As many times as he cheated death, it seemed as though he couldn't die.
Or at least, if he was going to die, it would be performing the impossible jump, not simply dying of natural causes. After all, by the time he retired in 1980, Knievel had underwent 15 major operations to relieve severe trauma and repair broken bones: skull, pelvis, ribs, collarbone, shoulders and hips. At the time, he told reporters that he was "nothing but scars and surgical steel".
To a generation that grew up on a diet of video games and cable TV, this fascination with Knievel is difficult to explain. I tried telling my two daughters about what he did, but was simply met with a blank stare.
Maybe it's something that doesn't translate well between the ages. But for those of us who were there, we won't forget.
How could we?
No, for those old enough to remember Evel, savor it.
Sear his image in your brain.
He was truly one-of-a-kind.
Unless, of course, you count the legions of kids who thought they could be just like him.