Sunday, November 01, 2009

The True Greatest American

According to the Discovery Channel a few years ago, Ronald Reagan was voted the "Greatest American." Helpful to Reagan's cause was that the vote took place shortly after his death. Had one of the Keebler elves died shortly before the vote, there's certainty that he would have won the vote.

Inside the Hotdog Factory has undertaken an exhaustive, scientific study -- so secret that its results are not available to anyone to evaluate -- looking into who truly was the Greatest American. After years of polling and study, a winner has been determined: Evel Knievel.

Although the exact criteria used to winnow down to the Greatest American cannot be shared with the Philistine public, it can be revealed that candidates were looked at for their creativity, free market fundamentals, commitment to capitalism, ability to capture the public imagination, and actual, tangible contributions to the world that bettered life for humanity in concrete ways. Under the weight of those variables, most politicians, writers, artists, musicians, actors, philosophers and "humanitarians" were quickly dispatched with. It should be noted that not only did Ronald Reagan not make it into the Top 10 of our Greatest Americans, but that Bozo the Clown and Al Goldstein rated higher than the ex-president.

But enough with the losers, let's talk about the winner.

Evel Knievel never dreamed up a dangerous idea and then sent someone else into harm's way to fulfill it (though various accidents following jumps did manage to blind two cameramen -- each losing an eye -- on separate occasions). He always put his own body on the line. The more daring the stunt, the more people would want to see it, the more tickets were sold, the more TV cameras were on hand, the more money was made. The man should have been named Kapitalism Knievel, he so embodied the free market spirit.

His first jump took him over the fountains in front of Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, on December 31, 1967. Knievel crashed, broke just about every major bone in his body, and remained in a coma for 29 days. He recuperated, devised another jump, and continued to earn his living by risking his life. He even paid for his own copious health care.

Hightlight Reel (from Wikipedia)
  • On May 25, 1968, in Scottsdale, Arizona, Knievel crashed while attempting to jump fifteen Ford Mustangs.

  • On January 7 and January 8, 1971, Knievel set the record by selling over 100,000 tickets to back-to-back performances at the Houston Astrodome.

  • On February 28, he set a new world record by jumping 19 cars with his Harley-Davidson XR-750 in Ontario, California.

  • On May 10, Knievel crashed while attempting to jump 13 Pepsi delivery trucks.

  • [I]n November, 1973, he successfully jumped over 50 stacked cars at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

  • On September 8, 1974 Evel Knievel attempted to jump Snake River Canyon. The parachute on the "skycycle" deployed prematurely, ruining the jump and nearly causing Knievel to end up in the water below.

  • On May 26, 1975, in front of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London, Knievel crashed while trying to land a jump over thirteen redundant single-deck AEC Merlin buses.

  • On October 25, 1975, Knievel successfully jumped fourteen Greyhound buses at the Kings Island theme park in Ohio.

  • In the winter of 1976, Knievel was scheduled to jump a tank full of live sharks live national television. During a rehearsal, however, Knievel lost control of the motorcycle and crashed into a cameraman. The jump was canceled.

  • On January 31, 1977, during a dress rehearsal for a CBS special on live daredevil stunts at the Chicago International Amphitheatre, Knievel crashed, breaking both arms and his collarbone.
When the jumps went bad, there was no golden parachute for Knievel to deploy, no executive privilege to invoke, no battery of attorneys behind which to hide. When he crashed, he was often smashed to bits. Because he had so many jump dates scheduled in advance, his broken bones were often set with metal plates beneath his skin so that he could continue performing unhindered by bulky casts.

One of his jumps in the early 1970s was attended by a large contingent of a motorcycle gang. As Knievel was going through his pre-jump show -- riding wheelies, standing on the motorcycle seat, riding his motorcycle backwards -- one of the bikers shouted an expletive that Knievel heard. It was a family show and Knievel was incensed that such un-family-friendly language was used amid his audience. So, he rode over to the offending lout and punched the biker in the face. This mobilized the entire motorcycle gang to attack Knievel. As the bikers rose to converge on the daredevil, an even larger contingent of union guys jumped up from their seats and converged on the bikers. An epic brawl ensued in which the union guys laid waste to the bikers, many of whom were hospitalized for months afterward.

Evel Knievel never asked anyone else to fight his battles, but he inspired such loyalty in his fans that they spontaneously came to his aid when it was needed.

By the end of his jumping career, Knievel said that he earned approximately $60 million and spent every cent of it, never knowing which jump would be his last. He never raided a Savings & Loan, never engineered a Ponzi scheme, never bilked anyone out of anything. He did, however, once beat the shit out of a person he believed had severely wronged him:

On October 14, 1977, Knievel pleaded guilty to battery and was sentenced to six months in county jail and three years probation. The charges stemmed from his assault with a baseball bat upon Shelly Saltman, promoter of the Snake River Canyon jump and author of the book Evel Knievel on Tour. Saltman's book alleged that Knievel abused his wife and kids, and that he used drugs. The accusations so angered Knievel that he attacked Saltman -- with the aid of two henchmen -- with two broken arms.

For his courage, character and commitment to capitalism, Evel Knievel was the logical choice for the Inside the Hotdog Factory "Greatest American" title. If only the old motorcycle maven were around to enjoy this accolade.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I support your assertion of Evel Knievel as the True Greatest American. Beside some minor inaccuracies in your list of his jumps and the outcome for actually one cameraman. Evel certainly does meet the criteria as you have defined it.

To quote Evel (paraphrasing Teddy Roosevelt). "Better to try and win glorious triumphs and victories than to rank with those poor spirits who know neither victory or defeat, because they live in such a gray twilight. And that's why I fly through the air and enjoy life as much as I can."