Evel is dead, long live Evel

It was not quite a week ago, as I write this, that the death of Evel Knievel was announced. It’d be a lie to say I wasn’t shaken a bit by this unexpected news.

I will, though, compose myself long enough to write of what Evel meant to a whole generation of boys, now men – mostly – who grew up idolizing him, watching him jump buses, or Caesar’s fountain, or the Snake River Canyon over and over on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and who had the toys. The toys were the crucial part of it all.

The toy that I had, an Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, with a bendable Evel figure, a cool bike and a crank that sent them both flying off whatever ramp or curb was convenient, was one of the favorite toys of my whole childhood. I played with it – when I could wrest it from the hands of my brothers – until it literally fell apart in my fingers.

Evel was a scoundrel and an opportunist. He was a petty criminal at one point in his life and always a shameless womanizer. He was in it for the money and the glory equally, and behind his wild daredevil ways – the man truly lived the life – lay a shrewd businessman. He was risking his life for the sake of the drama, with more than 40 broken bones to prove it, but he was going to get paid for it, as well as adored.

A big part of those paychecks came from parents like mine, who had boys that wanted the Evel Knievel dirt bike, or any of the numerous cars, trucks and motorcycles that featured the bendable figure. There was an Evel camper, and even a rocket cycle like the one he failed to jump Snake River in. You can still find some of the original mid-1970s versions on toy-collecting sites, and eBay, of course. If you want them – the really good ones – be prepared to pay.

Depending on the condition and the rarity, you’ll pay anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. As always, a good-condition toy in a mint-condition box is worth a whole lot more.

The part of it that can’t be quantified is what it means to those men like myself to whom Evel meant everything as a kid. With those toys, we could be him. Evel beat gravity. He beat world records. He could even beat the Grim Reaper, something he said himself in his last interview in – where else? – Maxim Magazine:

“You can’t ask a guy like me why (I performed),” he said. “I wanted to fly through the air. I was a daredevil, a performer. I loved the thrill, the money, the whole macho thing. All those things made me Evel Knievel. Sure, I was scared. You’d be crazy not to be scared. But I beat the hell out of death.”

Goodbye Evel, and thanks.

Note: After three years of dedicated service to Antique Trader, we bid farewell to Mark Moran, our Contributing Editor.

Mark is not going far, however, just to the other side of the building where he will take up digs and work for F+W Publications’ book department. He will be working as an editor and doing his part in acquisitions, as well.

His skills as an editor and writer will be missed, but his skill as an accomplished and knowledgeable generalist, as well as his just being a good guy, make it even harder to lose him. Good luck and best wishes to Mark. I have a feeling we may hear from him from time to time.

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