If He's Not in Action, He's in Traction

Who would have thought it would be Evel Knievel’s health that would fell him and not one of his insane stunts? The star-spangled motorcycle daredevil and ’70s icon died Friday at the age of 69.

I had an Evel Knievel pillow when I was a kid, which in retrospect seems like an odd piece of merchandise for him to have endorsed, but at his height he was like Krusty, stamping his seal of approval on everything. By the time I heard of him, his career was over mostly over and he was as famous for his failed jumps as his successful landings.

I suppose I was impressed much like Bart Simpson was after seeing daredevil Captain Lance Murdoch (a spot-on Knievel parody) at the monster truck rally. Bart starts off jumping his skateboard over pets, pools, Homer, until he runs out of things to clear. He decides to up the ante by planning a spectacular jump over Springfield Gorge, much like Knievel’s plan to jump Snake River Canyon in a rocket-propelled motorcycle. Lisa takes Bart to see Murdoch in the hospital in an attempt to dissuade him.
“Now let me start by saying... Good for you son! It's always good to see young people taking an interest in danger. Now a lot of people are going to be telling you you're crazy, and maybe they're right. But the fact of the matter is: Bones heal. Chicks dig scars. And the United States of America has the best doctor-to-daredevil ratio in the world!”
Bart doesn’t end up attempting the leap, but Homer does, plunging to the the bottom of the gorge, just like Knievel.

The stuntman’s pop culture influence extended beyond The Simpsons, of course. There was Super Dave Osbourne, a rock opera and a forthcoming roller coaster, among the reams and reams of merchandise. But one thing I’ve rarely seen him given much credit for is the term "jumping the shark.”

The term, which describes a show that has passed its prime, is attributed to an episode of Happy Days where Fonzi water-skis over a shark. The episode aired in 1977, just months after Knievel’s disastrous jump over a tank full of sharks. The term is now wide spread and it all goes back to Knievel. Now that’s a pop culture legacy!

Addendum: Having said nobody makes the jumping the shark connection, I found exactly that in Steve Mandich's extensive collection of Knievel Comedy. I also found a great look back at Knievel's career over at A Shroud of Thoughts. She has quite the way with pop culture obits.


  1. I missed the 'Evel' Simpson's episode. Darn!

    when I was a little kid, one of my friends who loved scary movies, was bragging she was going to see "Evil Con Evil" (being Spanish she assumed she was going to see a horror movie called "Evil with Evil") when she got back, she told me it was just a guy doing tricks.
    At least she got to see him.

  2. I have to admit that I always thought it would be one of his stunts that would kill Evel, not his health.

    And thanks for the compliment, although I have to point out the proper pronoun would be "he," myself being male. (-:

  3. LOL, sorry about that Mercurie! You learn something every day. The compliment stands, of course.

    It would have been fun to have seen him at his height. I wonder what he would have been like in the age of reality TV?

  4. Speaking of Animated approximations of Evel Knievel.

    Devlin and Devlin as an aged daredevil on Birdman in a bad remix

  5. I loved the Devlin character on Birdman (thought I agree, not in that clip) but I'd never seen the original cartoon. Nice find!