by Tony Marx
The following is an interview with Evel Knievel originally published in MMM #42 (June, 2001) Ever the promoter, Knievel was in town to hawk his line of riding gear at the former Easyrider’s (now Scooterville). MMM staffwriter, Tony Marx, and Evel talked about bikes, Evel’s storied career, respect and geo-politics.
MMM: How are you feeling today?
Evel: I feel pretty good. I know that I’m very lucky to be alive. For 35 or 40 years, I’ve spilt my blood and broke my bones and spent years in hospitals. I recently have had a full hip replacement and a liver transplant, and I’m getting used to the medication. I, uh…(hesitating) I really….. basically, I feel pretty good. This is a year and a few months after the transplant. Before I had it, my doctors told me that it would be the biggest thing that I ever had to face and believe me, when they take your liver out of ‘ya and put another one in, it’s like replacing a football in your stomach. Evel is quick to point out that his liver failure was due not only to drinking, but to Hepatitis C, which he contracted through blood transfusions during 20 major surgeries and over three-and-a-half years in hospitals. MMM: How much time do you spend on your bike each day? Evel: Well, I ride just a couple times a week. In Minnesota, since I’ve been here, I have not been able to ride only but one day because of the rain. I went out to the Mystic Casino. Then I looked for another casino because I couldn’t even get a beer at the Mystic Casino. Not even a non-alcoholic beer!
Watch the liver, Evel.
MMM: Where do you most enjoy riding? Evel: My wife and I, we like to ride where there’s not much traffic. I’ll tell you something: riding a motorcycle on today’s highways, you have to ride in a very defensive manner. You have to be a good rider and you have to have both hands and both feet on the controls at all times. I really think we should pass a law in every state, I don’t care whether it takes the independence away from an old person or not. You shouldn’t be driving a car if you’re over the age of 80. Maybe even less than that. I know guys in my hometown that drive by feel and sound. Is their independence more important than the life of a young child that might be walkin’ behind their car? I say no. We have to wake up to truth and reality in this country.
At this point, Evel rambles on for five minutes about how politicians who speak the hard truth to Americans never get elected, and how California is made up of “make believe, pretend people” and how they’re now getting a rude awakening with their population vs. electricity problem. Evel: Unless we do things in this country to slow down our population, slow down our birth control, (???) provide better water for people, provide power for people, we’re gonna find out that the next wars are not going to be fought over diamonds, gold and political things.
Knievel bangs the table, somewhat maniacally, with his pointer fingers. Evel: The next wars are going to be fought in this world, on the face of this earth; over land, and food, and water! The rest of it won’t count.
From here we talk about fear, pain, religion, the army and world peace, culminating with this ominous statement. Evel: If you look at the Bible, almost everything that was predicted, maybe everything, has come to pass. My own judgment of how the world is gonna end is that there will be a country led by a madman that will build a nuclear bomb with so much force, so much power, that it will be dropped somewhere on the face of this earth and that the earth will lose it’s place. It’ll lose it’s place in space, split in half and BURN…….as one part goes one way, and one part goes the other. (Looking to his wife) I just hope that she and I are on the same side.
I ask him if the current tensions with China play into this premonition of his. Evel: I foresee the Chinese ruling the world. What are you going to do to stop it? No president of the United States will ever have enough power to stop the Chinese when they want to take over the world. It’ll just be like, fried rice covering the states. I just don’t know how we can stop it.
Eventually we get back on the topic of motorcycles and crazy stunts.
MMM: Do you have any ambitions still? Things you haven’t done that you’d like to do? Evel: I just wanna live for another 20-25 years. A couple things I always wanted to do; one was to drive at Indianapolis.
His eyes sparkle and he straightens up a bit.
Evel: The other thing I wanted to do was jump out of an airplane at 30,000 ft. without a parachute and land in a haystack in the Hilton hotel parking lot.
Laughter erupts, but Evel remains serious.
Evel: I had trained for that with the head of the US Army Golden Knights, for over a year and a half. We finally went to Nevada to secure the blessing of the Nevada gaming commission, because they were going to license the betting on which haystack (of five) I would hit. The Golden Knights were gonna fall right in with me to about 1000 ft. on a laser beam that was being shot from the middle of the haystacks up, and then let me go in, but I was gonna come all the way down with oxygen and no parachute, just free falling. And believe me, someday that will be done. (Banging his finger again) It will be done.
MMM: Who talked you out of it at the time? Evel: (sounding pissed) The Nevada gaming commission threatened to bring a restraining order against me!
MMM: Would you thank them for it now? Evel: No! I think I coulda’ done it. I think I coulda’ landed on a dime. I really do. I had the haystacks loaded to where the impact area was gonna be loaded right and I could have come in as slow as 80 mph and rolled over and landed on my back. and went right into the hay. (chuckling) The other thing I wanted, but never got to do, had something to do with Liz Taylor, but she’s getting a little old and a little fat.
MMM: Back in the day you wore full leathers. What were they like? Any padding? Evel: I tell ya, I don’t know what was the matter with me. I thought I was superman. They had a little tiny bit of padding in the knees, a little in the shoulders, and a little in the elbows. When I hit that pavement at 70 or 80 mph, those suits just ripped. If I had it to do all over again, I’da had shoulder pads on like a quarterback wears. I’da had hip pads on, therefore I wouldn’t have broken my left hip five times. I’d wear a better pair of gloves so my hands weren’t so scarred up and burnt. What the hell, I guess I thought I was Elvis Presley. But I’ll tell ya something. All Elvis did was stand on a stage and play a guitar. He never fell off on that pavement at no 80 mph.
MMM: Do you ever look back at those accidents and ask yourself what would it have taken for you to die? Evel: Believe me, it was luck. I am a lucky, lucky person.
MMM: Ever get tired of talking about jumping? Evel: No.
MMM: Did you have any sort of scientific formula to plan a jump? Evel: Never! I did everything by the seat of my pants. That’s why I got hurt so much.
MMM: Did Harley ever help you out with the medical bills?
Evel: Oh yeah. Harley Davidson is the finest company in the world. They stuck with me through all the good and bad. The fights I had, and the scrabbles I had with different guys, like the guy I hit with the ball bat in Los Angeles. Harley Davidson stood by me.
MMM: You’ve experienced more pain that everyone here combined. Ever have any problem with painkillers? Evel: If you’re on Percodan and your doctor says it’s hurting you and you’ve got to get off it, that decision is yours. Treatment? I’ve been in a treatment center for drinkin’. I stayed for two days, then escaped. They filled me up on so much Valium and so much crap I couldn’t even think for myself. I thought, “Hell, I’d be better off drunk.” So I got the hell out of there. I just told myself, “Dammit, I’m not gonna drink anymore.” I used to drink a fifth of Wild Turkey a day. I used to pour it on my chest and light it on fire!
MMM: One last thing: the paper is sending me out to ride in a hill climb tomorrow and I’ve never ridden a dirt bike. Any advice? Evel: Never ridden a dirt bike? You just stand there and watch like a good little boy.