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“gut Wrenchingly Real!” – Interview With Kelly Knievel. 04/12/10

A fascinating exhibition of original Evel Knievel memorabilia appeared at a snow covered Gateshead Metrocentre on Saturday, in an upper floor, corner shop in the Red Mall, next to the ridiculously named “Town Centre.” Exhibits on display include a dragster, rocket bikes, Harley’s, jump leathers, helmets, and an array of photographs, models, posters, newspapers and video footage.  Kick-starting a world tour, it’s there for only a month before heading off to Europe. On the first day, we grabbed a few minutes with Evel’s eldest son, Kelly Knievel, who gave us an insight into the exhibition and what it’s like to have a Dad that goes all the way up to 11!

Can you tell us a bit about how the exhibition came about and what you hope to achieve with it?

We got together with the Harley-Davidson museum in Milwaukee, to put on an exhibition of all my Dads memorabilia, and they did such a fantastic job, with research and restoration, and the way they put it together and advertised it.  They had it on display from the end of July to the beginning of September and it was a really big success in the US.  So my options were; Ok, I can take all this really neat stuff, stick it back in the warehouse and let it collect dust again. Or else we can get it out there for people to see. And there’s a British promoter that’s been after me for a couple of years to do something with Evel Knievel,  so we got together and said, “ Ok, we’re gonna build a special lorry and we’re gonna take it around , so parents can take their kids and show them who Evel Knievel was, and what he was all about”. There’s a lot of really good things that kids can learn from Evel Knievel, that their parents grew up knowing and that’s why he’s so popular, you know, he has that connection of being a positive person and not quitting and getting back up and the anti-drug message. Things he did when you see him on film for the first time you think wow, now that’s who that guy was, if you’d never seen him before you’d think wow that guy was one tough American.

What do you think it was about Evel Knievel that captured the public’s imagination?

The fact that he was original, the fact that what he did was gut wrenchingly real, and the fact that he could communicate that to people and endure himself to people, I mean he wore his heart on his sleeve, and that’s who he was, he was just able to connect with people. I mean he didn’t want to crash any more than anybody else wanted him to, and when he did crash, he was man enough to take the consequences and get  up and think of something even bigger and better than that, and that takes one hell of a strong personality.

Did you think Evel Knievel was indestructible?

We never really thought about my Dad dying, it was nerve-wracking when he jumped, but every time he jumped, if he got hurt, he always came home and he healed up. But when you think about it, he performed over 200 jumps and the three jumps he’s the most famous for, are obviously Caesars Palace first, then the Snake River Canyon jump and then the Wembley Stadium jump, and in all three of those jumps he crashed!  That’s what embedded itself in people’s minds. I mean he made a hell of a lot more jumps than he missed, but the ones that made him famous really, were his failures and what made him famous was… he got up!!!  Just like he said at Wembley Stadium, “Help me up, I walked in here, I’m gonna walk out!”

Did you go to see his shows and watch them live?

I saw some of them, I obviously didn’t see all 200 of them. When we were in High School I don’t think we complied once with the state law, where you have to attend so many days in school. The principal called up my dad and yelled at him about it, he said “You know Evel, your kids have missed too many days off school, it’s a state law!” and my Dad thought about it for a second and he said “You know what?…they’re getting a hell of a lot better education with me, than they’ll ever get with you!”  (laughing!) …That’s just the kind of man he was!

You were actually involved in some stunt riding yourself weren’t you?

When I was younger I did, my brother and I did some wheelies with my Dad and obviously my brother went on, to become the daredevil and he’s performed some feats and made some great jumps. But you know, I just didn’t have the “famous gene” in me or I didn’t have the “daredevil gene” in me and it takes both you know.  (laughing!)

Is there anything at the exhibition that has any special significance to you?

I get asked that question all the time, “what’s your favourite part about the exhibit?”  I mean all the items at the exhibit, there’s the Snake River Canyon bike and his shark tank XR-750 Harley-Davidson, all the big pieces are there, but I’m coming to Newcastle and I’m gonna add a bunch of personal things to them, you know, there’s a man behind the larger than life figure. So you get a chance to see some of those personal affects, so people can really understand the personal side of him better. And that’s what really connects with people.  You know it really connects with people, when they see those feats, but, during that era when people saw that, I mean, when you think about it, he was one of the most famous people in the western world and he did it in the span of 10 years and he did it out of his own courage and imagination and creativity… a person did that, not a cartoon character but a person, I mean he did everything himself, he started from nothing and he had no publicist and no managers and no ad agency, I mean that really takes a special kind of person to do that… that’s why he connected with people.

I suppose his peers, of that era, would be the likes of Elvis and Mohammed Ali?

Yeah, I agree with that, but the difference in their fields, is they already had a path to follow, and I’m not trying to take anything away from them, because they were ground breakers in their own way and they had fantastic personalities and they were the best at what they did. Not only did he have to make his own path, he had to make it up as he went and that just takes a special kind of person.

How do you think the Evel Knievel story lives on?

Well you know, the most important thing we can do especially for the kids, is to make sure that first they understand who Evel Knievel was, and what he stood for, and there’s a real positive message in that, and then I think, the way my Dad lives on really, I mean… he’s the godfather of the extreme sports movement and all the guys that are out there doing what they do, from the skate boarders to the wild surfing guys, to the base jumpers…he was the inspiration for all that and I think that’s just a whole new generation of Evel Knievel and I think that’s how it lives on.

And if other people in their own lives can get something out of it, to maybe be a better business man or to think bigger or to try harder at something I think that’s the way it lives on.

The idea that if you fall, you pick yourself back up?

Yeah, I think that’s the message my Dad graphically gave people, a living, breathing, exciting example of what that means.

Finally, the tour starts here at the Metrocentre, presumably chosen because it is one of the largest shopping centres in Europe, where is it going after that?

I’m leaving the scheduling part of it up to brand merchandising, they know the territory in Europe, and I really don’t know why we started at the Metrocentre, but it’s as good a place to start as any, right? See how it goes and move along…and after here, it goes to a big bike show in Italy, and then all the way round Europe, …and… I’ve never been to Newcastle, so what the hell!…. (laughs)

Well it’s very, very white at the minute!

Thank you Kelly!

(laughs) Thank you!

See the full review here.

By Dave on December 6, 2010

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