by Laura Sillerman | bio

Reading Evel Knievel’s obituary in The New York Times, one could be stricken not by how many times he succeeded at death-defying acts of daredevil bravado, but how many times he failed.

The stunt that launched his career ended with his coming short of the mark and landing his motorcycle on a box of rattlesnakes. The most famous, in 1967, was a jump over the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. According to The Times, it “left him with a fractured skull and broken pelvis, hips and ribs. He was unconscious for a month.”

There were other stunts, some safely executed, others near-death disasters. They made him wealthy in the monetary sense and robbed his body until he was, in his words, “nothing but scar tissue and surgical steel.”

What was he after? And how did he ever get the notion to go for it?

Read a little more of that obituary and you might come to the conclusion that he was after redemption, and his need for it came from women.

When he was 13 years old, he stole his first motorcycle. Three years later his grandmother bought him the first he ever owned.

His hometown sweetheart, Linda Bork, allegedly married him after he kidnapped her — twice. In 1995, when he had left Ms. Bork after 38 years of marriage and was living with Krystal Kennedy, Ms. Kennedy declined to press charges when he was charged with battering her. She later married him.

That marriage ended in divorce in 1999, but the two remained together and split time between two of Knievel’s homes until his death.

Three women. Three participants in the take-no-prisoners attitude not uncommon among men of a certain profile, a profile that gets etched more firmly when it isn’t resisted.

Who knows the real story of this man, his children, grandchildren, his demons and his disturbance? None of us does, but as he goes to his rest, we can only wish the women who participated in his restlessness and dance with death find peace as well.

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  • Elizabeth Hemmerdinger December 4, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    You have the most wonderful way of crystalizing our time on this planet when you write about our icons — didn’t we all wish we had a little of Evel in ourselves — and that a little of us went with him on every flight?
    Thank you, Laura