No one who lived through the 1970s could forget the name Evel Knievel (1938-2007), the ultimate thrill seeker who became rich and famous performing dangerous and virtually impossible feats on a motorcycle. Born in Butte, Montana, Knievel dropped out of high school and worked a dozen different jobs before finding his true calling as a motorcycle daredevil.
In 1965 he made his first public jump, flying over a caged mountain lion and boxes of rattlesnakes at Moses Lake, Washington. Within a few years he hit the big time: leaping over the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and jumping 50 cars at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Though he broke nearly every bone in his body as a result of his numerous crash landings, Knievel’s feats were always bigger, better, and more dangerous than the last; as he liked to say, “Where there’s little risk, there’s little reward.”
Banned by the government from attempting a leap over the Grand Canyon, Knievel set his sights on the Snake River Canyon in southern Idaho, leasing the land so no one could stop him, then building a massive ramp and working out the details of his custom-made, steam-powered Harley-Davidson X-2 Skycycle rocket.
On September 8, 1974, some 30,000 people turned out, along with many millions more watching on TV, for Evel’s big leap. Unfortunately, one of his parachutes deployed on takeoff, and he floated gently down into the bottom of the gorge, safe and sound and proud of having the guts to try—even if he didn’t quite make it. Years later, in 2016, stuntman Eddie Braun rocketed himself across the Snake River Canyon riding the “Evel Spirit.”