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.