Even though his last appearance at a motorcycle stunt event was in 1981, it's still hard to think of a more iconic stuntman than Evel Knievel. His legacy as a performer is so great that it's inspired a Kanye West music video and spawned a TV show on Discovery about daredevils.
Of course, there was a more complicated — and less heroic — person behind all the stunts, and examining that person is what happens in the new documentary, "Being Evel." The movie was produced by a kindred spirit in the stunt world — Johnny Knoxville of MTV "Jackass" fame.
Evel is the ultimate showman. Elvis could sing — he was great looking and charismatic. But Evel not only did these death-defying stunts and invent that whole genre, but he was so smart, charismatic and he was such a salesman — he could talk anyone into anything.
EVEL KNIEVEL AND FEAR
Evel wouldn't ever admit he was scared, and from the people that were around him, they would all admit that you could tell when he was scared. His life was on the line with every jump, so I don't know if he was honest about his fear. I'm very honest about my fear — when I'm doing a stunt that I think could be forever bad, I'm scared. I recognize that I'm scared, but I still do it. We need the footage. [laughs]
ON KNIEVEL'S PROCESS
Evel did no rehearsal. I think his only rehearsal was to take a shot of Wild Turkey and say, "You've got to feel it!" I've seen people today that go so big or jump so far, but if some people are trying to jump 300 feet, first they'll jump 100 feet, move it back, jump 110, and on and on. Evel didn't do practice jumps until Kings Island, which was near the end of his career. Other than that, he just went for it.
He's the godfather of just going for it, and sometimes he would crash, which was what really made him popular, to be honest. His crashes made him famous. That whole mindset is just like, Okay, let's have crashes. If we ever land a stunt, we're doing it again. And that spirit hovers over "Jackass."
HOW KNOXVILLE BALANCES THE DARK SIDE OF KNIEVEL WITH HIS HERO
I learned quite a bit in making this documentary, but all heroes have flaws. Superheroes have no flaws, usually, because they're superheroes, and Evel was a superhero to me. I don't want to get into listing the worst things he ever did, because I don't think that's helpful. We cover everything in the documentary, warts and all, but I'm very conflicted now with Evel, because I'm still that little kid when it comes to him. He's my hero, but some stuff's really hard to swallow.
"Being Evel" opens in select theaters on Aug. 21st. You can also get it on itunes.