Even “The Last Gladiator” had his first jump. Even the most spectacular journey can have humble beginnings.
In his career heyday, Evel Knievel’s nationally televised motorcycle jumps were four of the twenty most-watched ABC’s Wide World of Sports events to date. They occurred mostly in the late 60s and mid-70s, although he was still able to strike a deal with TV networks into the early 80s.
Evel was one of the original stuntmen who brought epic scale drama to the casino crowd and fly over country alike.
Evel Knievel’s First Televised Jump
Although Knievel had been working for a while in the 60s as sideshow entertainment during motorcycle and car races, he still hadn’t caught the eye of the general public through television yet. This jump, while mostly unimpressive by today’s stuntman standards, was enough to thrill crowds and (most importantly) use this filmed spot to get to the next step of his rocket rise to fame.
Knievel’s jump here was filmed for the wildly popular ABC’s Wide World of Sports, hosted by Jim McKay. It ran for 37 seasons. This rather pedestrian jump put Knievel’s name into watercooler conversations, office breakrooms and bars – he was finally known by America’s everyman. Always the ambitious showman, he used this new-found notoriety to convince the owners of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to let him jump their fountain on New Year’s Eve 1967, which was filmed for ABC as a special under the Wide World of Sports marquee. After a failed landing, he spent 29 days in a coma, keeping sports and news audiences riveted in their seats for new developments on his condition.
So while Knievel continued to ratchet up the danger and daring in his televised stunts, with never before seen complexity such as his Grand Canyon and Snake River jumps in heavily modified jet and rocket cars, his legend began small and almost humble as he labored to thrill one race fan at a time.
Here’s where the legend began…