Famous People From Butte, Montana: Evel Knevel

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Located in western Montana with less than 40,000 residents, Butte is not typically viewed as a city full of fame and fortune. However, there are a few famous people considered to be from this Montana town. One of these famous people is daredevil Evel Knevel. 

Evel Knevel

Who is Evel Knevel

Professionally known as Evel Knevel, Robert Craig Knevel was born in Butte, Montana on October 17, 1938. Knevel found his way to fame by performing death-defying tricks on his motorcycle. His name was known around the world for his daring stunts, crazy crashes and riding skills. His first stunt was a jump over 40 feet of parked cars and a box of rattlesnakes in an attempt to attract people to his car lot. This was when he realized he could make money by performing crazy stunts. He always considered himself to be more of a businessman than a stuntman. 

His Life in Butte and Before Fame

Knevel was raised by his grandparents. He was known as a standout athlete, excelling in track-and-field, ski-jumping and ice hockey. He was also known as a bit of a troublemaker. His first motorcycle was a Harley-Davidson he stole at the age of 13 and his nickname “Evel” stems from a short stint in jail after being arrested for reckless driving. 

When he grew up, he volunteered as a paratrooper in the army and even played semiprofessional and professional hockey. Knevel married Linda Bork and began to have children which pushed him to explore other ways to make a living and support his family. He worked in the copper mines of Butte with the Anaconda Copper Company and planted even deeper roots in the Butte community and economy by starting a semiprofessional hockey team known as the Butte Bombers and a hunting outfitting service called Sure-Kill. 

His Time in the Spotlight

Knevel credits his career as a daredevil to attending a Joie Chitwood daredevil show at the age of 8, but his fame did not develop for many years. After realizing that people would gather and pay to see him perform stunts on his motorcycle he decided to give it a shot as a way to support his family in the late 1960s. 

He hired performers, stunt coordinators and other personnel so he could focus on his own stunts. In January 1966, Evel Knevel and His Motorcycle Daredevils performed in Indio, California at the National Date Festival. The show was a huge success and he received many offers to perform at other festivals and events. Throughout the year to follow, Knevel had many successful shows. He also had many injuries as he attempted to jump further and perform more dangerous tricks.

In December of 1967, Knevel attempted to jump the fountains at Caesars’ Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. His jump successfully cleared the fountains, but his landing was not as perfect. Knevel fell over the front of his bike and skid across the concrete. This crash resulted in many shattered bones and a concussion that caused a 29-day coma. ABC-TV aired this disastrous jump and his fame began to grow. After this jump, Knevel went on to attempt jumps over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho, fourteen Greyhound busses and a tank full of live sharks. He attempted over 75 jumps in his career, many of which were made on his Harley-Davidson XR-750 motorcycle. Knevel retired from jumping in 1977 and limited his appearances to speaking events.  

Knevel passed away on November 30, 2007 in Clearwater, Florida. He was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in his hometown of Butte, Montana after a funeral in the Butte Civic Center which holds over 7,500 people. 

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