Born on this day in 1938, Robert "Evel" Knievel was a stuntman who entertained audiences with his daredevil motorcycle jumps. After his first jump in 1965, Knievel upped the ante, making multiple record-breaking jumps (and breaking countless bones), all while wearing his signature leather jumpsuits. To celebrate what would have been his 80th birthday, we've compiled a list of eight of Knievel’s best motorcycle jumps, from the fountain at Las Vegas’s Caesar's Palace to London's Wembley Stadium.
1. CAESAR'S PALACE
On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve in 1967, a crowd of thousands watched as Knievel attempted to ride his motorcycle across the Caesar's Palace fountain in Las Vegas, Nevada. As he made the 141-foot jump, the crowd watched in horror as Knievel botched the landing. His body bounced on the ground like a rag doll, and an ambulance drove him to a local hospital. The stuntman suffered multiple fractures and a concussion, but his jump made him famous when ABC aired video of the botched stunt.
2. MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
In 1971, Knievel entertained an audience at the Auto Thrill Show at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle, he successfully jumped over a line of nine cars and a van. And in his characteristically flashy style, he wore a red, white, and blue leather jumpsuit.
3. LOS ANGELES COLISEUM
Knievel completed a perfect motorcycle jump in downtown Los Angeles in 1973. Held at the L.A. Coliseum, the event featured Knievel riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle over 50 smashed cars stacked in a pile. Some 35,000 spectators in the coliseum cheered as he safely made his landing and set a record that would stand for 35 years.
4. TWO LIONS AND A BOX OF RATTLESNAKES
In 1965, the motorcyclist performed his first public stunt. He organized an event in Moses Lake, Washington featuring two mountain lions and a box of rattlesnakes. Driving his Honda motorcycle, Knievel cleared a 90-foot box of serpents and then jumped over a couple of lions. Reflecting later on the beginning of his career, he remembered that although he was unharmed, the jump didn’t go as smoothly as planned. "I jumped 50 rattlesnakes in a 90-foot box and two mountain lions, but smashed into the edge of the box. All the snakes got out and the people had to run down the mountain," he said.
5. COW PALACE
In 1972, Knievel broke a record by jumping over 15 cars in an arena near San Francisco, but after the successful landing, he crashed and skidded through the short tunnel leading to the concessions. The crowd rushed after him, expecting him to be dead, but Knievel stood up (despite a newly broken ankle) and told the crowd: "If someone breaks this indoor record by jumping more than 15 cars, I’ll jump 16 or whatever the number … even if it kills me."
6. SNAKE RIVER CANYON
Idaho’s Snake River Canyon was the site of Knievel’s best-known stunt. Because he couldn’t get governmental approval to ride a motorcycle over the Grand Canyon, he settled for his second choice: Snake River Canyon. In 1974, Knievel tried to jump from one side of the canyon to the other—a 1600-foot wide gap—but he didn’t ride a regular motorcycle. Instead, he used a steam-powered rocket dubbed the Skycycle X-2. After taking off, his parachute deployed too early, and the wind anticlimactically blew him back toward the rocks. In September 2016, stunt performer Eddie Braun successfully jumped over Snake River Canyon in a replica of Knievel's Skycycle.
7. WEMBLEY STADIUM
In May 1975, after his disappointing performance at Snake River Canyon, Knievel went to London’s Wembley Stadium to jump over a line of 13 single-decker buses. An estimated 80,000 people watched him as he attempted this 100-mile-per-hour jump. Unfortunately, he crash-landed on the last bus and bounced until he hit the ground. Despite his injuries, he asked to be helped up, took the microphone, and made an announcement. "I will never, ever, ever jump again," he told the crowd. "I'm through."
8. KINGS ISLAND
Although Knievel told the London audience that he was done after his Wembley jump, he came out of retirement a few months later. In October 1975, he rode his motorcycle over 14 Greyhound buses at Ohio’s Kings Island amusement park. After clearing 133 feet, Knievel landed safely, and the televised event earned huge ratings. Knievel continued performing stunts and doing speaking tours until the early '80s, mostly while traveling with his daredevil son, Robbie Knievel.
This article originally ran in 2016.