03 December 2007

Those Who Knew Them: Evel Knievel 1938 - 2007

As A Dodo pays tribute to America's greatest motorcycling daredevil, Evel Knievel, with this moving obituary by his long-time friend and personal physician, Marty "Memphis" Stopholes III, MD.

I first met Evel back in the late 40s. He'd fallen off his bike while trying to pull a wheelie outside the drugstore in Butte, MT. Trying to impress a young lady, he told me as I patched up a shattered collar-bone, fixed his broken shoulder and set both his smashed arms and rebuilt his left leg. Whether he impressed her or not I can't say but something about that kid's self-belief sure as hell impressed me. I knew he was destined to go somewheres ... and that by the time he got there he'd surely be in need of urgent medical attention.

Through those early years that boy tried everything from ice hockey to athletics (and he would have broken the world pole vault record too, if he hadn't knocked himself unconscious on the pole on the way up and missed the landing mat on the way down) but it was when he took up with the motorbikes that he found his true calling ... and I found my medical practice flourishing like it never had done before.

Back then we didn't have time to sit back and take things easy, no sir! No sooner had I patched Evel up than he was back out on the road again getting smashed up real bad for real good money. This was the 60s, and while John F Kennedy had said America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, Evel was already reaching for the stars ... generally after losing his grip on the handlebars and zooming up, up and away from his bike. Evel knew my services wasn't cheap, but he knew they was the best, and that I'd always fix him up so he could get back out on the road - inside an ambulance, mostly.

Still, the public loved him and he loved the public - particularly the ladies - and why not? He was young, handsome and damn, was that boy smart! He may have been smacked in his head more times than George W was dropped on his by his pappy, but Evel sure made some great decisions. And he was always one step ahead of me - even when he was on crutches or in traction. I no sooner had to mention that folks might like to see him leaping a dozen buses on his motorcycle, than he would be revving up trying to leap 13 buses. Sure he often fell flat on his face - or his coccyx, or his ulna, or both as he went coccyx over ulna straight into the side of a bus or a bridge - but he went straight into the hearts and minds of his fans around the world at the same time.

I think it was during one lengthy stay in my hospital that he hatched his most audacious stunt. Waking from his coma he turned to me and whispered those three immortal words, "Snake River Canyon" ... which had coincidentally featured on the tape loop I'd left playing under his pillow. Well, he seemed so set on the darn thing I just had to put him in touch with some old NASA buddies of mine who eagerly agreed to build him a skycycle that would propel him over a mile across the canyon and into the record books.

Well, as you all know, things didn't go quite to plan. We'll never now how it was that that parachute of his deployed early, sending him plummeting to the canyon floor below ... as my lawyers have made clear to a number of journalists investigating me. Somehow (and despite the allegations that someone had sawn through his safety harness with a medical scalpel) he escaped with only minor injuries. Still, despite the lack of a severe maiming, that leap made him the biggest star stunt riding has ever known. Next thing you knew they was churning out Evel Knievel dolls, games, autographed bandages and personalised stunt-crutches that would make my boy one of the richest men on two wheels, even if those wheels was on the side of his chair.

Now I know that many folks say "Sure, Evel was a fine man, but did we really have to encourage the youth of America to put their life on the line trying to be like him?" Luckily, I didn't have much time to dwell on that kind of talk, mainly 'cause my hospital was soon brim-full of kids suffering from broken ribs, arms, legs, backs, necks... but all of them speeded toward that long ramp to recovery by the knowledge they was just a few beds away from their hero.

Sadly, time took its toll. Even Evel had to throttle back eventually. Why, only a few years ago he even rejected my scheme for him to leap into an electric saw and acid bath factory on a jet-propelled Zimmer frame. I tell you, the world of thrills will never be the same ... and nor will the world of emergency medicine. Still, if all goes to plan, I know the next time I see Evel he'll be lying in his stars-and-go-faster-stripes coffin waiting to make the greatest leap of them all ... as his rocket-powered coffin shoots up the ramp and soars over 24 hearses - most likely clipping the roof of the 25th, bouncing over the open grave and accelerating up and up and up into the wide, blue yonder.

Shoot, I just know he'd want me to release it on DVD for all his loyal fans, just as sure as I know he's up there listening. I know he can hear me. And if he's fallen just short of Heaven and smashed into those Pearly Gates breaking every damn bone in his stubborn ghostly body - I'll soon be there to fix him up. Just like the old days.


Anonymous said...

Poor old Mr Knievel - I did wonder where he got all his maddest ideas - now I know. I was wondering about his funeral as well - that is sure to be a great spectacle!!

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

Missed this - he actually died?

Unpremeditated said...

Sadly so ... though we may not have got all the details absolutely right, admittedly.