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Knieval's legacy lives on

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POSTED: December 22, 2007 5:02 a.m.
This past Friday, Evel Knieval finally could cheat death no more, as passed away at his home in Clearwater, Fla. He was 69.
The former daredevil, who had thrilled millions with his motorcycle jumps in 1970s had been failing in health for several years, suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis. He also had undergone a liver transplant eight years ago, after nearly dying of hepatitis C, which according to reports, he probably had contracted via a blood transfusion, from one of his many hospital stays earlier in his life.
With his passing, over the last few days there have been many stories on his feats, the millions he earned, his re-emergence in recent years, and what the press calls his iconic status. But for many of us men who were boys during the early to mid 1970s, his passing hits close. The majority of us all pretended to be Knieval at one or more times during our teens.
I still have a scar on my chin where I tried to take on “Dead Man’s Hill” in north Georgia, while I was on vacation with my family visiting my Aunt Betty Jene and Uncle Tommy. The George Hamilton movie, about Knieval had just been on the black and white TV and I had to go outside and push my cousin’s banana seat bike to the top of the hill to take on the hill that no one else in the rural area had been able to conquer.  
After the trip to the emergency room for stitches to the my chin and in my mouth, I got to “enjoy” the rest of my vacation eating soup through a straw, while my family ate good “vacation food.” And the hill remained as untamed as the Grand Canyon did to Knieval.
For many of the teens in this area, we were the motorcycle generation. Back before it was cool to have a four-wheeler or pickup, you were “the man” if you had a motorcycle. For me and my buddies with names like Doug, Bernie, Neil and Sterling, nothing was better than getting up on a Saturday morning for a ride.
Whether it was a Honda, Suzuki or Kawasaki, we would bundle up in our field jackets, boots and gloves, and ride all day in the cold weather.
We would ride all day in the woods of Hinesville, back when there were still woods in the area.  We could go from one side of the city to the other, and wouldn’t be back until dark. Then one friend would spend the night, to do it all over again the next day.
My dad even built me a ramp, when I lived over on Deal Street, where me and my brother Ricky could jump. Our parents watched and measure how far we landed each time we flew off the ramp. With each jump, we thought we were Evel Knieval jumping at Caesar’s Palace or Wembley, England, or even a pool full of sharks.
When we were kids, we didn’t know about the hard living side of Knieval, we only learned that as we grew up and became adults.  As kids we only knew that the daredevil we all wanted to be was “the coolest” as he wore his red, white, and blue jump suit.
All we saw was the man who advocated patriotism and loving America. We saw the man who told kids, never to do drugs, and to stay in school and graduate. We saw the man who said respect old people and try to always do the right thing.
I know Knieval wasn’t as good a man as I thought he was, and he wasn’t as bad as some tried to portray him in the ‘80s.
Despite his passing, for many of us, Evel will continue to live; he will be like Elvis, Marilyn, JFK and “Joltin” Joe.  You see some images never go away.
In recent years, Knieval appeared to make peace with many of the demons he had faced earlier in his life, and he appeared to have made peace with all the people in his life. I only hope he also made peace with God too.
 

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