Daredevil extraordinaire Evel Knievel has died. He was 69.
Mr. Knievel amazed and horrified onlookers on Dec. 31, 1967, by vaulting his motorcycle 151 feet over the fountains of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, only to land in a spectacularly bone-breaking crash. He then continued to win fame and fortune by getting huge audiences to watch him — typically dressed in star-spangled red, white and blue — roar his motorcycle up a ramp, fly over 10, 15 or 20 cars parked side by side, and come down on another ramp. Perhaps his most spectacular stunt, another disaster, was an attempt to jump an Idaho canyon on a rocket-powered motorcyle in 1974.
Mr. Knievel’s showmanship, skill and disdain for death were so admired that he became a folk hero. John Herring’s song “Evel Knievel” was a hit, and both Sam Elliott and George Hamilton have played him in movies. In 1977, Hollywood tried to make him into a movie star in “Viva Knievel!,” a film with Gene Kelly and Red Buttons. In the 1970s and ’80s, Evel Knievel toys had sales in the hundreds of millions for Ideal and other companies.
For a 1994 exhibition titled “America’s Legendary Daredevil,” the Smithsonian Institution acquired Mr. Knievel’s customized Harley-Davidson XR-750 — the museum called it one of the few motorcycles to survive his career — and Mr. Knievel donated a star-spangled leather jumpsuit, cape and boots that he wore during jumps.