Robert "Evel" Knievel grew up -- well, spent his formative years -- in Butte, Montana, "a city of fistfights and braggadocio, tall tales and sporting propositions...a city where alcohol made the wheels go round." To the manner born, he became a burglar, extortionist, robber, larcenist, and insurance salesman, all as a lad before graduating to mean drunk, pathological womanizer, wife beater, child beater, bigot, anti-Semite, and blustering boor. He also jumped a motorcycle over things, starting with a box of rattlesnakes (knocking it over, they slithered after him), then on to fountains, cars -- sixteen Toyotas, seventeen Subarus, eighteen Mercury Cougars, nineteen Datsuns -- trucks, London double-decker buses, a tank of sharks, a river canyon.
His crashes were the foundation of his success; his body was a busted-up mess. So was his life. Montville, with terrific biographies of Ted Williams and Babe Ruth -- neither angels -- under his belt, tells it in Evel in high-caffeinated style: "Money was everything to him. Money was nothing. Money somehow was both of the above. He was a one-man tornado when it came to money. His own. Or anybody else's."
Like the man, the writing tends to consume all the available oxygen and tastes of the enamel flaking off your grinding teeth, which is much the point: Montville has recreated Knievel's singular, appalling, infatuating, infuriating atmospheric disturbance, a man without filters who fought gravity, common sense, and common decency. It doesn't take a surgeon to find the stinky cheese under Knievel's skin -- a vicious, insecure gasbag wearing the daredevil's white leathers -- but Montville does so adroitly, with a gathering sense of portent. For Montville knows all the stories, whole truths and half-truths and flat-out whoppers, a glowing company of low-rent engrossments that take Knievel into an unholy embrace, ending -- after Knievel expires from a karmic lack of breath -- not as legend, but in tawdry notoriety. A good and nasty cautionary tale for all ages, even the Age of Anti-Hero.
[Evel] should come with a grape Slurpee, a little packet of Pop Rocks and a cocktail-size American flag to wave between your thumb and forefinger at teary moments.
The New York Times
Best-selling author Montville (The Big Bam) takes on the controversial daredevil Evel Knievel revealing an intimate, often alarming, and ultimately sad portrait of a man who lived precariously, both on and off his motorcycle. Deemed by Montville the first reality TV star, Evel's career dates back to a stunt on ABC'S Wide World of Sports in 1967. A former insurance salesman and small-town criminal, Knievel became famous by advertising himself, often falsely; during a press conference to announce his jump over Idaho's Snake River Canyon, he accepted a million check that turned out to be promotional nonsense. Montville's riveting journalistic style includes memorable scenes, many starring young women suggestively attired, Knievel's walking cane loaded with Wild Turkey bourbon and employees verbally trampled by the man's unpredictable behavior. The author recounts stories with eye-popping details, including Knievel's failed jumps over the fountains of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and over the Snake River Canyon. The combination of Knievel's rambunctious lifestyle and Montville's lively prose produces a page-turner almost as exhilarating as landing a record-breaking jump. (May)
An Esquire Best Book of the Year
A Boston Globe Best Sports Book of the Year
“Slick, pulpy, eye-filling, exhaust-belching. . . . Smart, rowdy fun. . . . [Montville writes] as if pulling a wheelie across every page. . . . Evel is never dull.”
—The New York Times
“[Evel] goes beyond the action-figure image, painting Knievel in all his contradictions. . . . In Montville’s capable hands, Knievel soars again in all his profane, self-deluded glory.”
“In the late 1960s and early 1970s . . . the coolest man on earth was Evel Knievel. . . . Montville brings him vividly back in an outlandishly entertaining new biography.”
—New York Post
“Engrossing. . . . A wild ride on the back of Knievel’s cycle.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Awesome. . . . A rollicking good tale. . . . Montville nails it just right.”
—The Hollywood Reporter
“If Knievel lived ‘as if his pants were on fire,’ then his biographer writes like a house on fire. . . . In describing the complex, contradictory stuntman’s battles with the demons that would ultimately destroy him, [Montville] pulls out all the stops.”
—The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg)
“The best biographies not only tell you what people did, they capture their personalities as well, making readers feel as if they are sitting down at a long, well-lubricated dinner with the subject. Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers is one such bio, and another is Leigh Montville's brilliant recent biography of Evel Knievel: Evel.”
—Jim Caple, ESPN.com
“Fresh and exciting. . . . A fast-paced thrill ride through a life of success, sex and excess that is sure to leave you winded.”
—The Montana Standard
“Montville has been doing big time things with his clever writing mind and his flying keyboard fingers for decades. . . . The job he did on [Evel] tops the others, good as they are. The outrageousness of his subject and Montville's matchless ability to entertain and report make it so.”
“Greatly entertaining. . . . A biography as sensationalist and superior as the daredevil himself.”
Inside the life and entertainment career of America's greatest daredevil, who lived "as if his pants were on fire."
Bestselling author and veteran sports columnist Montville (The Mysterious Montague: A True Tale of Hollywood, Golf, and Armed Robbery, 2008, etc.) points to the first biography of flamboyant risk-taker Robert Craig Knievel (1938–2007) as a cheaply commissioned, "cockeyed" screenplay (George Hamilton starred, angling for a career revival) based on "a collection of tall tales designed by the man himself to make people perk up and pay attention." It was 1971, and while the film critically tanked, the publicity skyrocketed Knievel's his popularity. Montville's version ably describes his childhood raised by his grandparents in depression-era Butte, Mont., and then as a young, street-educated loner and general troublemaker. Greatly entertaining and anecdotal, the narrative covers the controversial aspects of the high flier's history, tracking Knievel's fearlessness as record-breaking smaller motorcycle tricks gave way to power-tripping death-wish jumps marked by countless broken bones, hospitalizations and even a coma—all observed by wife Linda and their three children. Whether cruising the talk-show circuit in a zebra-striped leisure suit, crashing onto the pavement at Caesar's Palace or serving six months in jail for assaulting an event promoter, Knievel consistently treated his adoring (often aghast) fan base to reckless extravaganzas, increasingly perilous stunts and erratic, unbecoming behavior. Montville confidently narrates Knievel's daredevilry with characteristic panache and presents his subject as a "one man ethical dilemma" who spent the bulk of his career testing the limits of his physical prowess with an unquenchable thirst for fame and fortune.
A biography as sensationalist and superior as the daredevil himself.