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I-Reporters remember a childhood hero, Evel Knievel

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(CNN) -- Daredevil motorcycle stuntsman and American icon Evel Knievel died Friday, November 30, at the age of 69.


Nick Swann met Evel Knievel in Miami, Florida, in 1976. Swann says Knievel "lived life to the fullest." readers shared some of their own childhood memories of the man in the cape -- from riding bicycles around the neighborhood, pretending to be Knievel, to meeting the man himself. Their stories serve as reminders of Knievel's irrepressible spirit and the inspiration it brought to many Americans.

Below are a selection of e-mails from readers, some of which have been edited for length and clarity.

Stewart Pittman of Greensboro, North Carolina
When I was a boy, one of the few things my brother and I could agree on was that Evel Knievel was an American Bada--. Then again, we grew up poppin' wheelies in the same gravel driveway. Whenever the man in the cape would jump something stupid on ABC, we'd immediately try to replicate it with cinder blocks and two-by-fours. It never worked, but the resulting scrapes and bruises marked us both as male children of the '70s. Without EK's ludicrous bravado to fuel our imaginations, we'd have spent our youths riding around in circles. Instead, we soared to new heights, hung on his every slow-motion wipeout and learned to live with our own road rash. Mom may not have approved, but I dare say Evel Knievel made me stronger. He sure made me hurt.

These days, he's difficult to explain. Unlike the legions of extreme stunt riders he inspired, Robert Craig Knievel wasn't the least bit bohemian. Sure, he possessed Elvis' wardrobe, but he had the demeanor of a traffic cop. When he wasn't hurling himself and his Harley into the void, he was grimly reminding us how much fun he wasn't having. He may have been the Johnny Cash of daredevils, but Evel Knievel was clearly a tight--- in a white jumpsuit. Still, from his horrific Caesar's Palace crash in the year of my birth to his premature descent at Snake Canyon eight years later, The Man greatly enhanced my first decade on the planet -- all while sporting stars, stripes and a butterfly collar. So please, raise your Bicentennial mug and help toast this deliciously conflicted American Original, for he toughened up a generation of kids made soft by too much Brady Bunch. Awkward role model, leering boozehound, gravity-bound astronaut; the Patron Saint of Testosterone has finally caught Supreme Air. So please, show some respect.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's an old action figure I gotta stick on eBay.

Lloyd King of Bedford, England
Evel Knievel was my biggest influence and inspiration as a kid growing up in the seventies and eighties. Some of my earliest memories are of leaning an old door up against a trash can and jumping my bike over the neighborhood kids who would lie on the road with their fingers crossed. I'm still riding and jumping, but now I have a little boy who, in honor of Evel, we named Logan Knievel King. I will tell him all about Evel when he is older. I can't wait to get his first bike and crash helmet. I'm sure he will love Evel in the same way I do.

Sean Cavanaugh of Southlake, Texas
When I was a young boy, I used to visit my grandfather, John "The Captain" Cavanaugh, in Butte, Montana. On several occasions, he took me out on the links with him, where we would meet his friend Evel. (That was Mr. Knievel to me, of course.) He had, as I recall, an absurdly fancy golf cart. In my childhood mind, it was decorated like a Rolls-Royce, but that might have been my active childhood imagination. What wasn't imagined was the kindness of Evel. He had time for everyone -- even his friend's grandkids. Both he and his family will be in my prayers.

Jeffrey Hass of San Francisco, California
My uncle Fred Long was doing business with Evel, so as a 13-year-old kid, I got to meet Evel at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Universal City. It was amazing. Evel was very kind to me and even asked if I wanted to go to the room for some autographed pictures. I was amazed. I never met anyone in my life that was famous. He sat and had a Pepsi with me for about 10 minutes, and while hundreds waited outside just to see him, we were inside, and he signed my napkin: Happy Landings, Evel Knievel. HOW cool is that??? I will never forget that. I probably reminded him of his son, Robbie -- we're both the same age. He was just so cool. And I told him I had the highest score on the pinball machine at a Bellflower, California, bowling alley, and he was amazed and said, 'I have a pinball machine. ...' I knew he knew, though. It was so awesome!!!!! I never forgot it. Never.

Scott Stevenson of Chattanooga, Tennessee
As a child, I was not into comic book heroes or fake superstars (Superman, Batman, etc,) but Evel was larger than life to me. He inspired me to be amazed at what a human could do if he would at least try, including facing failure and trying again until you could do it.

Today's kids are so different because they have grown up in a no-fear environment. But back in the '60s and '70s, only one person was made of guts and glory, no super sponsorship endorsements, no supervised training programs, nothing. Just put on that red-white-and-blue leather suit and give it all to please a crowd. Today, he did his greatest stunt: He did go beyond the Grand Canyon.

John Goodlow of Upper Montclair, New Jersey
Like everyone, I remember Knievel from the TV appearances on Saturday afternoons as a kid. But in October of 1975, I was a performer in the Kings Island Clown Band where he jumped over 14 Greyhound buses. I remember it being a cool day, not like some of the warm October days we have now, and all of us wondering if he'd make it or splatter himself in the process. I'm sorry to see him go. Whenever someone like this from my childhood passes, I feel like a tiny part of me goes with it.

Al Roy of El Cajon, California
Saw him jump twice in my childhood ('70s) in Dallas. One of my top 10 heroes. Good guy. Stood his ground. True American. I will miss his persona very much. I always found it interesting how he firmly believed in the Constitution, yet beat up an author over writings. All told, I think he did this to protect his image and family.

Steven Cassara of North Bellmore, New York
As most boys growing up, I was fascinated by Evel Knievel. I remember being 10 and seeing the movie "Evel Knievel" paired with "Hells Angels on Wheels" (starring a young Jack Nicholson) at a Lake George drive-in. It was heaven on earth. I also saw him jump at the Nassau Coliseum in the early seventies. It was awesome. Of course, any time he was performing a jump on "Wide World of Sports," all the local kids were glued to the set at someone's house.

We even built a bike ramp in his honor. We had no tools save a hammer, so this thing was about 4 feet high, which was huge at age 12. Nobody wanted to jump until I invoked the daredevil spirit of Evel himself and said I'd go. Gathering speed on my trusty Schwinn Stingray, I ascended the ramp and launched myself into the air. Success!! I was the hero of the moment. However, that moment was short-lived as my second attempt ended in scraped shins, hands and a bruised ego. Ah, the price we pay for glory! Thanks Evel! Rest in peace.

Chip Hill of Lawrenceville, Georgia
I was a motorcycle rider in high school, and the name on my Interact Club jersey read EVEL over my # 89 on the back. I had a part-time job at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. Evel was in town doing stunts and crashed at Lakewood Speedway. The news slipped that he was taken to Piedmont Hospital, and I could hardly sleep that night, hoping that he was OK and that I may get a chance to meet him. Upon my arrival at work the following morning, my co-workers met me at the door with his room number. We staged a scenario where we had to check the outlets in his room for safety and went upstairs to his room. Armed with a meter and a notepad, the head electrician and I entered his room. The first thing I saw was his white leather jumpsuit hanging just inside the door. I was able to talk with him for an hour, and through his pain, he spoke with me as if he had known me forever. He graciously signed the notepad "Happy Landings, Your Friend, Evel Knievel". Happy landings to you in Heaven, my friend ... hope to see you again someday.

John Jorgensen of Fargo, North Dakota
For young American boys growing up in the '70s, as I did, Evel Knievel was a hero -- and, in the days after Vietnam, perhaps as close to a real-life superhero as any man could become. Like many of my friends in suburban Chicago, I owned an Evel Knievel stunt motorcycle and would spend my playtime building ramps and creating stunts to emulate his daredevil ways. One memory is attempting to jump a few trash cans on a bicycle in the alley behind my home -- apparently, "kids, don't try this at home" didn't sink in.


Saturday afternoons, long before cable television came to town, were spent anticipating the next stunt Evel would perform. Would he be jumping semi-trucks or buses or a fountain? Would he survive? The folks at ABC could make a 3-second jump last for what seemed like hours by building up the danger and feeding our anticipation. It was high drama indeed!

Evel Knievel was obviously a flawed individual, as we eventually came to understand. He was, however, uniquely American in his bravado and anti-establishment swagger with his stars-and-stripes leather jump suits and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He will always be a treasured part of my personal experience, and I'm sure his legend will live on as representative of the strange experience called the '70s. The king is dead -- long live Evel Knievel! E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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