The untold truth of Evel Knievel

Evel Knievel was a man who lived a life so ridiculously over the top and filled with insanity, running his biography through a plagiarism checker brings up the dictionary definition of the word "badass." He spent decades risking his life, breaking bones and generally flipping off the grim reaper by doing insane stuff like fly-leap over burning cars on a motorcycle. With a life so storied and rich, there's a lot about the "Last Gladiator" even fans aren't aware of. Such as …

He once beat someone up with a baseball bat, when he had two broken arms

In 1977 a man called Shelly Saltman released a book titled Evel Knievel on Tour, a biography that painted a somewhat-unflattering portrait of the daredevil. Amongst other things, the book claimed that Knievel used anti-semitic slurs, cheated on his wife, and abused both prescription drugs and alcohol. Knievel was incensed upon learning of the book's contents and set out to prove to Saltman he wasn't a violent, unhinged crazy person by … tracking him down and beating him half to death with a baseball bat in a parking lot. That seems counterproductive, but whatever works for you.

But here's the truly insane thing — at the time of the attack, Knievel had two broken arms. In a 1998 interview with Vibe Magazine, Knievel admitted that, when the attack took place, he had both his arms in casts thanks to a recent crash that had nearly killed him. Not wanting two broken arms get in the way of whupping Saltman's behind, Knievel had one of his cronies hold him in place as he awkwardly swung the bat at his head. Saltman survived the attack with a fractured arm.

Saltman sued Knievel and was awarded several million dollars in compensation, money Knievel refused to pay … while simultaneously having a limousine take him to and from his community service sentence, and bragging about how he'd do it again. Saltman would later claim he bore no ill will to Knievel, since the incident basically ruined the daredevil's career and cost him his lucrative endorsements. That said, he was apparently still annoyed enough that he attempted to sue Evel's widow, when he passed away in 2007.

He sold insurance to patients in a psychiatric hospital

Given the amount of time he spent in hospitals or staring at a crashed motorbike with his hands on his hips and his brow furrowed, Evel Knievel was likely well aware of the ins and outs of the insurance world, or at least we hope he was, considering he used to sell it for a living.

The story goes that, to support his young family while recovering from an accident (a recurring trend in Knievel's life), he decided to try his hand at selling insurance for the Combined Insurance Company of America. Handsome, confident and gifted with an almost-magnetic personality, Knievel quickly established himself as the company's top salesmen for the Montana region, often selling more policies in a day than most people sold in a month. But it wasn't enough.

Wanting to establish himself as the company's best salesmen, period, Knievel walked into a hospital in Warm Springs and sold 271 insurances policies in a single day. Knievel's superiors were super-impressed, lavishing praise on him and holding him up as an example of what every salesman should aspire to be. It didn't even matter that 120 of those new clients were patients suffering with various mental problems — it's all about that cheddar, baby, and Knievel had brought in tons of it.

While they were apparently okay with exploiting the mentally vulnerable, higher-ups at the company weren't happy when Knievel insisted that he be immediately promoted to vice-president of the entire company, for being so good at selling insurance. Not wanting to stick their best salesmen in an office, executives tried to persuade Knievel to stay in his current position, which clearly didn't work since we remember him for being a stuntman and badass daredevil, not a suit who sold insurance. Knievel quit Combined Insurance shortly afterwards.

He once did a wheelie, in a dump truck

Perhaps no story better sums Knievel's flair for theatrics more than the time he spent working at a copper mine in Butte, shortly after leaving high school in his sophomore year. One of Knievel's many duties at the mine was to drive a huge dump truck, a vehicle he took one look at and decided that it would look way cooler doing a sick wheelie.

So how does one perform a wheelie in a dump truck, you ask? Well, if you're Evel Bloody Knievel, you ask someone to drop a six-ton boulder in the back of that badboy, and then you curbstomp the gas pedal like it owes you money. Knievel succeeded in pulling off that wheelie, but accidentally crashed into a bunch of power lines. This resulted in his being fired, because even the most charismatic of folks can't survive the wrath of bosses panicking over their bottom line.

He used to be a poacher and tried to give the president a big pair of elk antlers

As a young man, Knievel enjoyed a successful career as a tracker for inexperienced hunters, guaranteeing them big game or their money back. Now, while Knievel was a skilled hunter, his confidence about his ability to track and find big game was due more to how he was sneaking hunters into Yellowstone Park to illegally poach the delicious, unsuspecting elk living there.

At the time, hunting wasn't allowed at Yellowstone, but the game wardens would frequently cull elk to maintain herd sizes. Knievel reasoned they wouldn't mind him helping out by killing a few himself. Well, they did mind, and asked him to please stop poaching animals. He took exception to this request, pointing out that it might be a good idea to sell off the right to hunt the elk they were going to kill anyway, both to raise money and to stop the meat going to waste. When the Park Service refused to listen, he marched, hiked, and hitchhiked all the way to Washington, carrying a massive set of antlers while collecting signatures for a "let us kill the damn elk" petition.

He then walked straight into the White House and asked to meet with JFK. Upon learning that the president was busy, he left the antlers with his secretary, and went to Capitol Hill to yell at some congressmen. Largely as a result of Knievel's efforts, the culling of elk in Yellowstone was soon stopped — now, every year a number of them are relocated to areas where hunting is legal, to maintain the population. Evil never wins, but Evel does.

He used to jump over snakes and mountain lions

While Knievel is best known for jumping over ever-increasing lines of buses and cars, at the very beginning of his career the daredevil made ends meet jumping over wild animals, like mountain lions and snakes, instead. For the most part, this was no more dangerous than jumping over a car, since it's not like an animal would attack a screaming hunk of metal flying over its cage or anything, but Knievel knew it would draw a big crowd.

That said, this one time, while trying to jump over a 40-foot-wide box with with hundreds of angry snakes, Knievel crashed and accidentally released them all. When the snakes began making a beeline for the crowd, Knievel heroically … told the snake handler to deal with it by himself and walked off. As expected, the stunt shocked and amazed the crowd who dutifully went home and told everyone about it, laying the groundwork for his daredevil career. And if it didn't, and he had to become a store manager somewhere, he probably could've done that too. Dude clearly knows how to delegate.

He never worked out exactly how far he could jump before a stunt

Yes, even though his job was to jump over large gaps on a motorcycle, Knievel claimed that the only thing he ever used to gauge whether a jump was possible was his own "guesstimate" about whether it looked doable. Knievel once went as far as admitting that he used no science or math beforehand to calculate trajectory or maximum distance or anything like that, trusting instead his own judgement and ability to not die if things went wrong.

In other words, every time Knievel lined up to do a stunt, he had zero idea if it was even possible … and did it anyway. The reason why Knievel took this risk is because he was often quoted as saying that a man should never go back on his word, which for him meant that, if he told crowds he'd jump over 40 buses, he'd bloody well try and jump them all, even if he had no idea such a feat was possible.

He was a walking advertisement for motorcycle helmets (literally)

At the apex of his career, Evel Knievel was known just as much for his spectacular crashes as he was for his successful jumps. Ever aware that his actions would no doubt inspire copycats, Knievel made a promise to himself to never be seen riding his motorcycle without a helmet. Knievel was a staunch proponent of mandatory helmet laws, and would preface most interviews by explaining that anyone who rode a motorcycle without a helmet was, in his eyes, "a go*****ed fool." Knievel went as far as insisting that any promotional stills of him on his bike, where the bike was implied to be in motion, should show him wearing a helmet.

He also spoke at a 1987 hearing about a mandatory helmet bill, imploring the crowd of gathered legislators to not underestimate the value of a helmet, offering himself as an example. As he took the podium, Knievel was fittingly introduced to the crowd as "the best walking commercial for a helmet there is," before an Assemblyman noted that he'd broken every bone in his body except his head. Because he was no bonehead.

Nobody really knows how many bones he broke

The Guinness Book of Records claims that Knievel broke or fractured some 400+ bones during his long and storied career, a figure that has been touted all across the web as fact, despite Knievel himself dismissing it as an exaggeration. And when Mr. Promote-Myself-At-All-Costs calls BS on something promoting him as basically a superman, maybe we best listen.

Exactly how many bones Knievel broke during his years as a stuntman will likely never be properly established, as there's no comprehensive list of the injuries he sustained. However, Knievel himself once claimed that, by his own estimation, he probably broke about 35 bones, and spent half the time between 1966 and 1973 "in hospitals, in a wheelchair or on crutches." Even still, this figure isn't entirely trustworthy, as Knievel allegedly fell over several times after his retirement, playing golf or while relaxing at home. This means we actually have no idea how many bones the man famous for breaking the most bones actually broke during his lifetime. All we know is it's many, many more than we ever hope to break.

He once gave up a liver to save a random guy's life

In addition to gravity trying to off him for decades, Knievel was nearly killed in the late-90's by Hepatitis C, which ravaged his liver to the point where he needed a transplant. It was never discovered exactly when Knievel contracted the disease, though it was assumed by doctors he got it during a blood transfusion after one of his many crashes, and it had lay dormant in his system for several years.

True to his reputation as an iron-willed, indomitable sentinel of sucking it the hell up, Knievel refused to stay in the hospital, and maintained a surprisingly positive attitude for a man who'd basically been handed a death sentence. Because he chose to stay at home, Knievel was given a special beeper, which would go off if a donor liver was found — on February 2nd, 1999, it beeper went off. Knievel dutifully rushed to the hospital and underwent the tests to confirm the liver was a match. It was, but during the tests, Knievel learned of a young man who was further down the donor list, and whom shared his blood type. This kid had taken a turn for the worse, so Knievel told his doctors that he actually felt fine and went home, giving the liver to a man he'd never met.

Luckily, just a week later, another liver that matched Knievel's blood type came around. This allowed the man who'd cheated death more than almost anyone else in history to do it yet again, while saving a young, full-of-promise life in the process.

The FBI watched and kept tabs on him for years

As you may have guessed from some of these entries, Knievel wasn't exactly that nice of a guy throughout most of his career (though he did turn over a leaf after retirement and found God). His prickly personality saw him keeping some rather unfortunate company in the '70s and '80s — some of Knievel's more, unsavory associates were tenuously linked with the Mafia, which prompted a massive FBI investigation into Knievel's dealings.

Though this investigation never resulted in any formal charges being leveled against Knievel (mostly due to a lack of any hard evidence), the file compiled by the FBI reveals that he was linked to several vicious beatings of rival daredevils, beatings it's claimed he had a hand in masterminding. This is something you'd think the FBI would have had an easier time proving, considering Knievel would openly admit to doing stuff like beating a guy half to death with a baseball bat. Though really, impossible jumps, faulty rockets, and Grand Canyons couldn't stop Evel, so why should we think a bunch of flesh-and-blood government agents stood even a tenth of a chance?