Opinion

Robbie Knievel, a Motorcycle Daredevil Like his Father, Dies at 60

Robbie Knievel, a daredevil performer who soared into the sky on motorcycles, pulling off a series of spectacular airborne stunts like his father, Evel Knievel, died on Friday at his home in Reno, Nev. He was 60.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to his older brother, Kelly Knievel.

Known as Kaptain Robbie Knievel, Mr. Knievel followed his father into the high-flying, bone-shattering world of motorcycle stunt performances, landing more than 350 jumps over his death-defying, 30-year career.

In one of his best known jumps, in 1989, Mr. Knievel, decked out in a star-spangled, white-leather suit, vaulted 150 feet over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. It was a kind of tribute to Evel Knievel, who had cleared the same fountains in 1967, only to land in a bone-breaking crash that horrified viewers.

“When I made the jump and said, ‘That was for you, Dad,’ he ran up and hugged me, with tears in his eyes,” the son recalled years later. “I had never seen him so emotional.”

In 1998, Mr. Knievel soared more than 200 feet over 30 limousines at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. The following year, he jumped between the two Jockey Club hotel towers in Las Vegas with no net below, as pink and green fireworks exploded around him.

“This is crazy ’cause life is crazy,” Mr. Knievel told reporters afterward, a thumb hanging from his leather “RK” belt buckle, The Las Vegas Sun reported.

Mr. Knievel hurtled over part of the Grand Canyon in 1999, breaking several ribs on the landing, 25 years after his father had tried to clear the Snake River Canyon in Idaho on a steam-powered rocket, only to experience a parachute malfunction that sent him tumbling into the rocky chasm below.

Mr. Knievel also jumped over an oncoming steam train seconds before it collided with his takeoff ramp and flew over a row of military planes on the deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid in New York.

Robbie Knievel’s jumps, like his father’s, resulted in many cracked bones, including several vertebrae. “I am lucky I am still able to walk,” he wrote in a 2019 essay about his relationship with his father, on fatherly.com.

Robert Edward Knievel was born on May 7, 1962, in Butte, Mont. He was the second-oldest of the four children of Linda Bork and Evel Knievel, who gained worldwide fame as a motorcycle stunt performer in the 1960s and ’70s.

Evel Knievel died in 2007, at age 69, after years of failing health that included diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable lung condition.

Enthralled by his father’s derring-do, Robbie Knievel started riding motorcycles “when he was old enough to hang on to the handlebars,” his brother said.

His first motorcycle was a Honda mini, which his father taught him to ride by putting him in a ditch, tying a rope around him and then yanking him off the seat if he accidentally twisted the throttle too far.

Before long, he was jumping over 10-speed bicycles and hanging a sign on the gate outside of the family’s house that read, “See Evel Knievel Junior jump for 25 cents,” he wrote on fatherly.com.

At age 8, he performed his first show with his father at Madison Square Garden and the two toured across the United States and Australia together. Robbie Knievel would entertain crowds with “wheelie shows,” he wrote in the essay, riding around on his back tire before his father’s jumps.

Mr. Knievel tried other jobs, such as laying tile and working in a sawmill and a bike shop, but always returned to motorcycle jumping.

“I do it for the excitement and the quick money,” he once said, adding, “I think I was born” to be a motorcycle stuntman.

As a teenager he argued with his father, and left home at 19 to begin a solo career. But Evel Knievel remained an enduring influence in his life.

Before one of his first big jumps, over 10 parked vans, Mr. Knievel wrote that he became so anxious that he developed a fever, but he remembered his father’s advice: “It’s normal for you to be nervous. The bigger the crowd, the better you’ll do.”

Mr. Knievel, who was divorced, leaves behind three daughters: Maria Collins, Krysten Knievel-Hansson and Karmen Knievel.

Mr. Knievel wrote that during the last years of his father’s life, the two reminisced about “the crazy lives we’d lived, and how lucky we’d been time and time again.”

“My dad struggled with the idea of passing the baton to me,” Mr. Knievel wrote. “He saw me as one of the many competitors who were trying to outjump him, but in reality I was his biggest fan.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button