Daredevil Evel Knievel dies after long illness

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - Daredevil Evel Knievel, who dodged death in spectacular motorcycle leaps and crashes in a life full of showmanship, died on Friday at age 69, according to his lawyer and a message on his Web site.

"I just spoke with him last night. He seemed to be in good spirits," said Knievel's lawyer, Richard Fee, adding he died in the Tampa Bay area of Florida where he recently made his home.

The front page of the tempestuous showman's official Web site -- www.evelknievel.com -- read simply "Robert Craig 'Evel' Knievel October 17, 1938 - November 30, 2007." The site quickly became inaccessible as it presumably was deluged by hits.

"Anybody can jump a motorcycle," he once told Esquire magazine. "The trouble begins when you try to land it."

Knievel -- who retired in 1981 after breaking more than 40 bones in his body, including his back seven times -- had been ill for some time, suffering from a lung disease.

He recently gave what he said "may be the last interview I ever do" to the December issue of Maxim magazine and battled rap singer Kanye West for infringing his trademark in the "Touch the Sky" video, in which West appears as "Evel Kanyevel" and wears a white jumpsuit like the one Knievel made famous.

The two reached a settlement on Tuesday.

In his heyday, the king of all daredevils dressed like a superhero in a red, white and blue leather jumpsuit with a cape and cane, his hair sculpted back in a tall pompadour.

Knievel's greatest stunt turned out to be a failure when on September 8, 1974, he tried to ride a rocket-powered motorcycle across the Snake River Canyon in Idaho.

With a pay-per-view television audience watching, the parachute deployed when his Skycycle X-2 was only two-thirds across, sending the cycle into the canyon wall.

It landed partly in the river but Knievel walked away with minor injuries.

For a jump over 13 double-decker buses in London's Wembley Stadium in 1975, he was paid $1 million, a fortune at the time, according to Maxim.

One of Knievel's motorcycles -- a 1972 Harley-Davidson XR-750 -- is in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

PAIN, TROUBLE AND TOUGHNESS

His final years were plagued by pain from his accidents, as well as pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring of the lungs.

"God never made a tougher son of a bitch than me," Knievel told USA Today in an interview published in January.

The reporter described Knievel, who was 68 at the time, as feeble and reliant on an oxygen tank and an implanted drug pump to relieve his pain.

He spent almost a month in a coma in 1968 after he crashed while jumping the fountains at the Caesars Palace casino-hotel in Las Vegas. There were more serious injuries when he tried to clear a tank full of sharks in Chicago in 1976.

"If you don't know about pain and trouble, you're in sad shape," he told Esquire. "They make you appreciate life."

Knievel's personal life was at times almost as painful as his job. He had trouble with the law starting as a teenager, went through bankruptcy and was estranged for years from his son, Robbie, who also became a motorcycle daredevil.

Knievel did not quit drinking until undergoing a liver transplant in 1999.

Born in Butte, Montana, he said he was inspired at the age of 8 when he saw an auto daredevil show.

He was dubbed "Evil Knievel" by a jailer in Montana after crashing his motorcycle while fleeing from police. He later changed the spelling to "Evel" as his daredevil career took off to avoid being perceived as a bad guy.

Knievel was married twice and had four children.

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