Thursday, April 28, 2011

I Read a Book: Evel

After my Evel Knievel biography was published in 2000, the next Evel bio appeared in 2004, written by a Brit named Stuart Barker and titled Life of Evel. Though I was eager to read it, I was disappointed to find it largely a rewrite of my book, often bordering on plagiarism...
Mandich, p. 146: “Following Snake River, Warner had signed Evel to a three-picture deal, beginning with Viva Knievel!. Unlike the 1971 biography in which George Hamilton played Evel, Viva was a fictional action picture starring Evel as himself.”

Barker, p. 176: “Following Snake River, Warner Bros. had signed Evel to a three-picture deal, and the first was to be Viva. It was not to be an updated biography following on from George Hamilton’s 1971 Evel Knievel movie, but rather a fictional action-adventure with Evel starring as himself.”

Anyway, upon hearing last year that Sports Illustrated's Leigh Montville had his own Evel bio in the works, I was eager to read it as well, but also wary of another knockoff. At long last, Montville's 400-page Evel arrived on Tuesday, and I've spent the past couple days plowing through it. So...

I liked it! Instead of a rehash of all the stuff in my book, I was pleased to find that Montville had explored the various eras of Evel's life in much more depth than I did, turning up lots of good information and anecdotes that I hadn't known about before. While my book was steeped in dates and places and facts and figures, and relied heavily on previously published sources (I made a point of including as many of Evel's most obnoxious quotes as I could find), Montville interviewed many of the big names Evel crossed paths with, such as Frank Gifford, Brent Musburger, Linda Evans and George Hamilton. He also talked to many less-flashy supporting characters -- a childhood friend, a cellmate, an old hockey teammate. My book spent large chunks exploring son Robbie's daredevil career, as well as the careers of many of Evel's other imitators; I also wrote lots about Evel's ongoing impact on pop culture, much of which involving the loads of Knievel-related media and merchandise released in the '70s. In contrast, Montville mostly stuck to the many wild stories that were a constant in Evel's life, relating them with the flourish of a seasoned biographer. Still, he glossed over the 30-odd years between Evel's retirement and his 2007 death in the final chapter, while I spent maybe a third of my book covering Evel's post-daredevil career... Overall, Montville's book is a solid complement to mine, and vice-versa.

However, though I didn't think it possible, Montville far surpassed my book in demonstrating that Evel was a colossal asshole -- a violent, abusive, drunken, mean-spirited, philandering, egomaniacal bully, whose m.o. was to lie, cheat and steal his way through life. Among Montville's juicier bits: Evel's FBI file (released in 2008) suggested he hired goons to beat up his daredevil rivals; a couple interviewees said that Evel himself beat his wife Linda (not surprising, though nothing I've actually read in print before); not only did Evel regularly dine-and-dash, but he also pulled a midnight heal-and-dash from a hospital; he once rudely referred to George Foreman and Muhammad Ali as, as Bob Arum politely put it, "another word for 'African Americans'" (also not surprising). Evel had an anti-Semitic streak too (currently listed on eBay by Evel's son Kelly: EVEL KNIEVEL ORIG 1977 ANTI SEMITIC LAWSUIT PAPERWORK -- bidding is now at $51!).

But hey, Evel's jumps were still cool.

Almost as entertaining as Montville's book is its reception by the knuckleheads on the Ultimate Evel Knievel Fan Board...
Posted by Jeff on April 27, 2011, 1:56 am
Did this really say that Evel beat up Linda and the kids? Wow. Has anyone here ever met Linda? That would be like beating up Mother Theresa. If all this is true, its no wonder that Robbie left home at 16. Bob, surely you aren't liking this book, right?

Posted by Bob on April 27, 2011, 3:18 am
Im not even reading the book after what you told me before. Not buying it or giving the guy that wrote it one dime of my money. But thats just me. I have no interest in the book what so ever. To me it was never even written...I removed all info on ordering or promoting the book on my site and canceled my order sometime ago..

Posted by Dave Whiting on April 27, 2011, 11:29 am
I looked forward to this new EK book for months. I haven’t even made it half way through and I’m already ticked that this guy got a red cent of my money. As far as I’m concerned, I doubt this guy ever even met Evel or knew anything about him and had absolutely no business writing a book about Evel Knievel other than to just cash in on the name. I hope the royalties to the Knievel estate are stinkin HIGH ! If anyone out there who hasn’t already paid for this, Don’t waste your money!!! It's a real rip off !!!

Posted by Jeff on April 27, 2011, 12:46 pm
We should all just pass around one copy and not put any more money into this guys hands.

Posted by Bob on April 27, 2011, 3:40 pm
All i can say is thanks to Jeff for the heads up on the book. Which not only saved me money but didn't give this guy any of my money. I think everyone who truly loves and cares about Evel, If you read the book or not. Should go to and rag on this guy for your book review..I the way i like Jeff's idea,let everyone that cares pass the book around and then we will burn it.

Posted by Scott on April 28, 2011, 8:21 pm
Mine came in today. I missed the thread about how negative the book is. Not even going to open it. Sending it back on Monday.

Posted by Bob on April 29, 2011, 12:02 am
Thats the way you do it Scott..good man..
Man, I can't wait to see their Amazon reviews ...

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