AS father and son, they have long been considered too alike to be friends. But now that Evel Knievel, the legendary stuntman, is preparing for death, he has ended a 30-year feud with his daredevil son Robbie.
The 68-year-old motorcycle ace, who risked his life for years in spectacular leaps over buses, canyons and sharks, is girding himself to “pass over his final jump” at home in Florida, Robbie said last week.
His father has pulmonary fibrosis and a morphine pump stapled to his abdomen to ease the pain from lung disease and the 35 bones he has broken.
“He is dying, we are preparing for it. He is ready to meet God and ask him why he made some of his jumps too short,” said his 44-year-old son.
Knievel, who was once jailed for reckless driving, “is finding peace with people around him and, at last, that includes me”, said Robbie, who has established his own reputation for hard living and daring stunts.
“At least we are talking and that is more than we have done since he kicked me out of home when I was teenager. Before that there were years of arguments — I had been jumping on my bike since I was tiny but he didn’t want me to follow in his footsteps,” said Robbie.
In the 1960s Robert Craig Knievel, nicknamed “Evel” while in prison for theft, paved the way for today’s “extreme” sports. A former skiing champion from Montana, he escaped his life of safe-cracking and selling life insurance policies to asylum inmates when he wore a white leather jumpsuit copied from Liberace, the Las Vegas entertainer, and jumped 90ft across a pit filled with rattlesnakes. He became a massive star.
He set many records but broke more bones. He was in a coma for 28 days after failing to clear the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He caught his wheel on the last of 13 buses parked side by side at Wembley Stadium in 1975, crashing but still limping to the microphone to announce a short retirement.
By his own account Knievel has lived to the full, blowing a £20m fortune, bedding 2,000 women including eight in one day, and soaking his chest with whisky and setting it alight for a joke in a Washington bar.
He was friends with Elvis Presley and Lee Marvin, who said Knievel was “the cool tough guy we all love playing on the screen, the genuine article”.
Now Robbie has one last record to break. He wants to make his own farewell jump, in the summer of 2008, across a stack of double-decker buses in Wembley Stadium: “I am not competing with my father, not exactly. But it’s the right way to honour his amazing courage.”