Last jump 'cross the gorge

>> Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Damn: Evel Knievel died Friday. How did I miss that item? Age 69, and no cause of death listed, though I'm not sure one needed to be: while he didn't die the way anyone would have expected, he'd wrecked his body enough times that it could have been any one of a million little things; maybe a bit or piece that fell out in 1976 and didn't get picked up and put back in, or got picked up and glued in funny. (We've all done that, I imagine: tried to glue something back together and thought it looked alright when we eyeballed it, only to realize a few days later and long after the glue had set that it was crooked as hell.)

But Evel! Good grief, the man was everywhere for a time. I was born in '72, a little kid during Kneivel's heyday when he was promoting himself like a madman and doing stunts all over the place, most of which seemed to end with him scattered ass-over-end across the bottom of the Grand Canyon or over the tops of two hundred buses. Kneivel was, perhaps uniquely, the most successful failure in American history: at the heart of his legend weren't amazing successes, but his improbable survival after failures that should have killed him again and again and again in gruesome and hard-to-clean-up-after ways.

He was everywhere in those days, it seemed. Or maybe that was the warping perspective of being five: he was on TV and comic books and lunch boxes, which probably wouldn't count as "everywhere" to a boring old grown-up paying attention to horrible grown-up things like, oh, the six o'clock news. I'm pretty sure there was an action figure one of my friends had at some point, one of those 12" tall, fully articulated dolls that dominated the toy market before 1977 and Star Wars and Kenner showed you could make a mint off of rigid 6" figures. It would have been an action figure with real clothes, that famous red-white-and-blue jumpsuit reproduced in coarse synthetic fabric, and no doubt the doll suffered a grim fate not unlike the one Kneivel somehow avoided: dismembered, possibly headless, mixed in with fragmentary smashed-up junk. It would probably be worth a small fortune on eBay now, who knew? We outgrew those things and thought they were crap.

I wonder if Kneivel met Superman. I remember that Muhammad Ali did. I'm not sure how they resolved that delicate balancing act: Superman is Superman after all, but it's hard to imagine Ali was about to allow himself--or his licensed reproduced likeness--to be shown up by a honky, even one from an alien planet who could throw buses and catch airplanes. I'm not sure if I owned that comic or someone I knew had it (or maybe it's one of those crazy ephemeral bits of crud that get jammed in your brain and solidify; a dream made truth by the vagaries of neurology and age); in any case, I don't know how it turned out. Probably some misunderstanding, and they joined up in the end and kicked the villain's ass together. That's how all those fights ended.

Anyway, Kneivel is dead, which hardly seems possible. The newspaper article has at least one mistake I spotted: a photograph of some old bald dude in glasses is labeled "Evel Knievel | 1938-2007." Actually, Evel Knievel was a guy with a big mop of hair on top of his head (though he had lost a lot of it around his temples, I'll grant you--probably had something to do with his helmet or having his head reassembled or something) and an Elvis-like sneer. So I'm not sure whose photo got inserted in the article, but I hope the paper will post a correction.


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