When I was a boy, one of the few things my brother and I could agree on was that Evel Knievel was an American Badass. Then again, we grew up poppin' wheelies in the same gravel driveway. Whenever the man in the cape would jump something stupid on ABC, we'd immediately try to replicate it with cinder blocks and two by fours. It never worked, but the resulting scrapes and bruises marked us both as male children of the 70's. Without EK's ludicrous bravado to fuel our imaginations, we'd have spent our youths riding around in circles. Instead we soared to new heights, hung on his every slow-motion wipeout and learned to live with our own road-rash. Mom may not have approved, but I dare say Evel Knievel made me stronger. He damn sure made me hurt. Whoda thunk he'd die of old age?
These days, he's difficult to explain. Unlike the legions of extreme stunt-riders he inspired, Robert Craig Knievel wasn't the least bit bohemian. Sure, he possessed Elvis' wardrobe - but he had the demeanor of a traffic cop. When he wasn't hurling himself and his Harley into the void, he was grimly reminding us how much fun he wasn't having. He may have been the Johnny Cash of Daredevils, but Evel Knievel was clearly a tight-ass in a white jumpsuit. Still, from his horrific Caesar's Palace crash in the year of my birth to his premature descent at Snake Canyon eight years later, The Man greatly enhanced my first decade on the planet - all while sporting stars, stripes and a butterfly collar. So please, raise your Bicentennial mug and help toast this deliciously conflicted American Original , for he toughened up a generation of kids made soft by too much Brady Bunch. Awkward role model, leering boozehound, gravity-bound astronaut; the Patron Saint of Testosterone has finally caught Eternal Air - so please, show some respect.
Now if you'll excuse me, there's an old action figure I gotta stick on eBay.