Question of the Day January 27, 2015
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Q:Is the fountain that Evel Knevel tried to jump at Caesars Palace still in operation today? Any other interesting information about the attempted jump would be great, too.
A:On Dec. 31, 1967, aboard a Triumph Bonneville T120 motor cycle, former professional hockey player and barnstorming cyclist Robert Craig "Evel" Knevel attempted a 141-foot leap over the fountains at Caesars Palace. He was clad in a Liberace-inspired white leather jumpsuit with three stars on his right chest, a Bell Star helmet atop his head. He aimed to jump 141 feet and land on the opposite side of the Caesars fountains. His philosophy: "I knew I could draw a big crowd by jumping over weird stuff."
To set up this stunt, the then-unknown Knevel had out-hustled Caesars Palace owner Jay Sarno in a Stupakian manner that would have made the notoriously self-promoting Vegas World/Stratosphere founder proud). He had three "lawyers" besiege Sarno with phone calls on behalf of a fictitious Evel Knievel Enterprises. Pretending to be a reporter for Sports Illustrated and to represent ABC’s "Wide World of Sports", Knevel further badgered Sarno with requests for attention. The casino mogul caved and the two agreed upon the soon-to-be-famous New Year’s Eve leap.
ABC-TV wasn’t ready to commit to shooting Knevel’s daredevil leap, so the cyclist hired John Derek to film it. So low-budget was the enterprise that Linda Evans (Mrs. Derek) wielded one of the cameras. After blowing his last hundred bucks on the blackjack table, Knevel headed for his bike and performed some of his normal warm-up stunts for the crowd. Then he was ready. But when his cycle hit the takeoff ramp, Knevel knew something was wrong. The vehicle was decelerating.
Knevel’s momentum was sufficient to carry him as far as the safety ramp, but the unplanned landing tore the handlebars off the bike and sent Knevel tumbling and sliding, coming to a stop in the Dunes parking lot. "I lost control of the bike. Everything seemed to come apart," Knevel recalled. "I kept smashing over and over and ended up against a brick wall, 165 feet away." In addition to a concussion, Knevel suffered fractures to both ankles, as well as several other bone breaks that included a crushed pelvis. He would be in the hospital for a month.
But the jump had made Knevel a star. The value of the Derek film footage skyrocketed, as ABC came around belatedly, purchasing it for "Wide World of Sports".
Toward the end of his life, Knevel would return to Caesars Palace, but not to ride. His short-lived marriage to Krystal Kennedy was solemnized in 1999 on a platform built over the Caesars Palace fountains expressly for the occasion. By this time in his life, Knevel said he was "nothing but scar tissue and surgical steel … I created the character called Evel Knievel, and he sort of got away from me." (After their divorce, Knevel and Kennedy would reconcile and, upon his death in 2007, she was named his sole heir.)
The fame of Knevel’s failed jump, ironically, has obscured two successful leaps. One was made on April 14, 1989 by Evel’s son Robbie. On May 4, 2006, Mike "The Godfather" Metzger did the Knevels one better by performing a jump that incorporated a back flip.
As for the fountains, consultation of film records shows them to be essentially the same as they are today … lest any additional cyclists feel like jumping them. For the past two winters, the area has been converted into a skating rink and winter wonderland known as the Caesars Chalet experience.