In the history of pop culture, there is probably no stranger a celebrity story than that of daredevil Evel Knievel, who was driven (no pun intended) to perform one death-defying motorcycle stunt after another, each growing more outrageous and dangerous than the one before. Now his story is coming to television in the form of the USA Network TV series Evel starring This is Us‘ Milo Ventimiglia in the title role.
The network officially describes the show as “an exhilarating portrait of a complex man living the American dream, juggling meteoric celebrity and raising a family, and facing the very real probability that his next jump will kill him.”
Chris McCumber, USA’s entertainment chief, offers, “USA Network is known for big event series that celebrates heroes, rebels and icons, and what could be bigger than the story of one of the greatest thrill seekers of all time? The incredible life and journey of Evel Knievel lends itself to a dramatic retelling, and we are excited to bring this iconic American tale to our viewers.”
Evel was born Robert Craig Knievel on October 17, 1938 in Butte, Montana. Always fascinated with the idea of being a daredevil, in the 1950s he began participating in local rodeos and ski jumping events and eventually found himself a motorcycle stunt performer. Check out this progression of stunts, which really put him in the media spotlight, turned him into a phenomenon and fed his need to give the audience more and more.
In 1965 he jumped 40 feet over rattlesnakes and two mountain lions (why?) in Moses Lake, Washington. The following year, in January, he jumped 45 feet over two pickup trucks in Indio, California. The next month it was a mid-air jump over a speeding motorcycle that he missed, injuring his groin upon landing. In June, he jumped 12 cars in Post Falls, Idaho and, in the same month, tried to do 13, but landed short — resulting in a broken arm, broken ribs and his being rendered unconscious. Between October 1966 and September 1967 he increased the number of cars from 14 to 16.
Varying numbers of cars followed over the next few years and, in April 1972, he decided to jump two vans and 100 rattlesnakes. In July it was seven trucks and four cars. In 1974 he upped the ante by starting to jump 10 Mac trucks. But then, in 1974, perhaps sensing he really needed to wow the audience after what had been becoming “routine” jumps, he attempted to jump the 3/4 mile wide Snake River Canyon in Idaho on a X-2 Skycycle steam-powered rocket, though he was forced to deploy his parachute at launch.
May 1975 saw him bring his act to London, where he tried jumping 13 single-decker buses, landing on the last one. After that, 14 Greyhound buses. Flash forward to 1977 and what would be his last performance: he attempted to jump 13 sharks in Chicago but, during a practice jump, he crashed and got eaten by the sharks — we kid! He did, however, crash during the practice, fracturing his collarbone and right arm as well as suffering heavy bruising. For the most part, that was it — though he would eventually perform with his son Robbie, who engaged in motorcycle stunts as well.
Evel will reportedly have Milo playing Knievel up to the point of the Snake River Canyon jump.