Being Evel

Daniel Junge

Subjects: Johnny Knoxville, Shelly Saltman, Tom Kelly, Skip Van Leeuwen, Bob Rowling, Jeanne Buis Knievel, Linda Bork Knievel, Robbie Knievel, Doug Wilson, Frank Gifford, Tony Hawk, Robin Knievel-Dick, Geraldo Rivera, George Hamilton, Kelly Knievel, Tracey McCloud, Krystal Knievel

Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes

No MPAA rating

IMDB page:

Plot: A profile of legendary motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel, featuring interviews with friends, fans, reporters, and family members.


As a kid, I had one of these:


So did most children of the ‘70s – it was on the shelf right next to our Hot Wheels tracks and Star Wars figures. We set up ramps and other obstacles, and watched the fragile, patriotically-dressed daredevil fly through the air and off his motorcycle, falling in a heap some distance from a perfect landing.

The real Evel Knievel had a (somewhat) better track record, and that made him a superstar. Being Evel offers a straightforward biography of the man behind the helmet, who was as flamboyant and self-destructive as the decade he dominated.

Born Robert Knievel in Butte, Montana, he was a classic rough-and-tumble kid from an impoverished small town, always ready for a fight and a chance to show off. His skill on a motorcycle became apparent early, and with an uncanny gift for self-promotion, Knievel rechristened himself with a memorable stage name and hit the road.

Junge interviews a range of Knievel’s associates, from childhood buddies to family members, and they offer a familiar portrait of poorly-handled success. Knievel was always daring to the point of insanity (he really did want to jump the Grand Canyon), and his celebrity brought on the kind of bad behavior you’d expect. He drank too much, cheated on his wife, threatened people, even assaulted a close friend. That last stunt landed him in jail for a while, and nearly destroyed everything he’d built.

The big twist in Being Evel is that Knievel did not die young and tragically, the victim of his powerful demons. He lived into his late 60s, and even saw a resurgence of interest in his career, thanks to the popularity of “action sports” like skateboarding and stunt cycling. He had a chance to mend fences as his health failed, and seemed to be at peace when he passed away in 2006.

If you were around to witness the Evel Knievel phenomenon, there won’t be much new here. It’s still fun to watch those infamous jumps, and hear stories of the madness surrounding them. If you missed Knievel’s heyday, it’s a chance to find out why your parents still love those stupid toys. 8/21/15

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