Monday, December 31, 2007

The Anatomy of a Coma

Forty years ago today, December 31, 1967, Paul Westerberg's eighth birthday: Evel Knievel clears the Caesars Palace fountains, but the ensuing wipeout nearly kills him. He was hospitalized for the next 37 days, 29 of which spent in a supposed coma. Though mentioned in nearly every obit published since his death last month, this coma story is total bullshit.

The January 2, 1968 Las Vegas Review-Journal reported "multiple fractures in the pelvic area" and that Evel was listed in "fair" condition, but addressed no head injuries. Two days after the crash, his surgeon said he “was conscious and his outlook was cheerful.” Four days after the crash, Evel was moved out of intensive care. Two weeks later, Tom Diskin of the Las Vegas Sun observed Evel's “remarkable recovery." Diskin's interview was frequently interrupted by usual hospital business, Evel's multiple phone calls to plan upcoming stunts, and “an NBC-TV crew from Los Angeles had cables and lights crowding his tiny room as it shot film for the network.” But, no coma. "Other than having the usual hospital pallor, Knievel looks fine... (he's) alert and restless.”

Yet, at some point, the coma story gained life, then momentum. The first hint I found was in the September 1969 Science & Mechanics: "he suffered a severe brain concussion." Then, in the January 1970 Esquire, Evel recalled, “I was conscious all the way to the hospital. Then I was out for two weeks.”

Two weeks somehow turned into 29 days. When Sports Illustrated asked Evel in 2002 what a 29-day coma felt like, he replied, “How the fuck do I know? I was in a coma.”

Evel continued to lie about his coma, even after finding Jesus last spring, and right up until his death. In one of his final interviews, published in the December 2007 Maxim Evel maintained, "I was unconscious 30 days."

I regret erroneously perpetuating this coma story in my Evel bio without checking it out first. Though the book debunked a few other Evel stories, it still makes me wonder how many more Knievel "facts" that I've accepted are indeed myths.

In any case, here's the crash, as brutal as ever.



At 5:34 PM, January 06, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about the story of this idiot who never met Evel but took information he found in other old books and wrote his own Evel bio. then sold it to TNT for about 50 grand? and all Evel fans now hate this idiot? that is a great bullshit story! I think his name is mansdick. well that is what I call you on my site. the only guy who I have heard defend you is Klang. the only one. btw the movie sucked.


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