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Moments of Cult: When Evel Knievel jumped the fountains at Caesar’s Palace!

Evel Knievel did things differently. In his time, there was no genuine science behind motorcycle jumping. Instead, calculations were on the back of a cocktail napkin (if there were any), ramps, angles and lengths were eyeball estimates, and speeds were judged by the seat of your pants.

Only nine months before, Evel had first tasted fame when Wide World of Sports broadcast his jump of 15 cars at Ascot Speedway on their weekly show (about 95 feet). Then, in November 1967, he landed his biggest jump ever, but that was still just 100 feet, and to clear the fountains, he was going to have to fly 140 feet.

But Evel was as much a madman as he was a biker, and he jumped over the fountains (or failed to) because he knew even a failure would make him world-famous. In order to make the jump happen, he pulled the sort of con that is a trope of popular media: He called the casino using different names and voices asking about the jump, then pretended he was his own lawyer angry that Caesar’s had been using Evel’s name. According to John Derek (Linda Evans’s husband and a filmmaker making a documentary at the time), Evel confessed to him the night before that he didn’t think he was going to land this jump successfully, but he still drank a shot of whiskey, strapped on his helmet and faced his fate.

When he hit the take-off ramp, he felt the motorcycle unexpectedly decelerate. The sudden loss of power on the take-off caused Knievel to come up short and land on the safety ramp supported by a van. This caused the handlebars to be ripped out of his hands as he tumbled over them onto the pavement, where he skidded into the Dunes parking lot. Because of the crash, Knievel suffered a crushed pelvis and femur, fractures to his hip, wrist, and both ankles, and a concussion that kept him in a coma for 29 days.

Next time you get anxious before a job interview or a flight in bad weather, think of Evel stoically hopping on his bike to face injury or death, but maybe skip the whiskey.

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Stephen Pryde-Jarman is a Cult TV and Film journalist, award winning short story writer, playwright and screenwriter. A natural hoarder, second hand shopping fulfils his basic human need for hunter-gathering; but rummaging through a charity shop’s bric-a-brac shelf also brought him the inspiration for his novel Rubble Girl having seen a picture of a Blitz survivor sat amongst the rubble of her house with a cup and saucer. Rubble Girl has been described as " thought-provoking" and "fast paced ... with plenty of twists and turns." Amazon.

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