Evel Knievel is the father of extreme sports. Before there was ever a Tony Hawk, Shaun White, or the X Games, there was the one-man daredevil act in Knievel. In his 15 years soaring over buses, snakes, and a canyon, he crashed more than 20 times. Those accidents generally resulted in numerous injuries, including broken bones. How many bones did Evel Knievel break in his career?
Evel Knievel starts his career
In 1965, Evel Knievel worked as a salesman at a Honda motorcycle dealership in Spokane, Washington. To overcome the widely held belief by American customers that Honda was an inferior product, Knievel developed a plan. Quite adept at handling a motorcycle and inspired by stunt race car driver Joie Chitwood, Knievel decided he would put his skills and mettle to the test by launching one of the Hondas over some type of obstacle.
The first obstacle would be two mountain lions and a cage of rattlesnakes. Knievel successfully landed the jump, but it wasn’t without its problems.
“I jumped 50 rattlesnakes in a 90-foot box and two mountain lions, but smashed into the edge of the box. All the snakes got out and the people had to run down the mountain,” Knievel said on the History Channel’s biography.
Unfortunately, customers didn’t flock to the store to buy bikes. Despite not achieving his original goal, Knievel saw that first stunt as an opportunity to pursue an entirely new career as a motorcycle stuntman. A year later, he launched the “Evel Knievel and his Motorcycle Daredevils” show.
Knievel’s most serious accidents
On June 19, 1966, after two successful jumps over two pick-up trucks in one and 12 cars in another, Evel Knievel continued to up the ante with an attempt to clear 13 cars. It turned out to be his first encounter with failure. He landed short and crashed. In the process, he was knocked unconscious and broke an arm and several ribs. He was just getting started.
On New Year’s Eve in 1967, Knievel suffered the second crash of his career and it was one of his most serious. In an attempt to clear the fountains at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas at 141 feet, which was the longest jump of his career, the motorcycle came up just short on landing and sent Knievel dramatically tumbling like a rag doll down the ramp and the pavement. He suffered broken ribs, a broken hip, and a crushed pelvis, all of which resulted in him spending 29 days in the hospital.
Evel Knievel’s other biggest crash based on the severity of injuries sustained happened on May 26, 1975, at Wembley Stadium in England in front of 90,000 people. He attempted to jump 120 feet and clear 13 single-decker buses. Knievel landed on the 13th bus, and much like his failed attempt in Vegas, his lifeless body and bike tumbled helplessly down the ramp and landing area.
He suffered a second fractured pelvis, a broken hand, and a concussion. Despite being in tremendous pain, Knievel addressed the crowd following the accident. “Ladies and gentlemen of this wonderful country, I’ve got to tell you that you are the last people in the world who will ever see me jump. Because I will never, ever, ever jump again. I’m through.”
Knievel un-retired and jumped five months later.
How many bones did Evel Knievel break?
With more than 20 crashes, and Evel Knievel not personally tabulating his number of broken bones, there has been a wide variety of numbers reported through the years. The most eye-opening number can be found in the Guinness Book of World Records, which shows Knievel sustained a shockingly high 433 broken bones by 1975. His career didn’t end until five years later.
By Knievel’s own account, he underwent 15 major operations to relieve severe trauma and repair broken bones—skull, pelvis, ribs, collarbone, shoulders, and hips. He had a titanium hip and aluminum plates in his arms and numerous pins holding many of those bones and joints together. He was in so many accidents he actually broke some of the metal parts inside his body.
Knievel’s son Robbie said his father had broken somewhere between 40-50 bones during his career. Knievel claimed it was around 35, but was quick to point out that he spent more than half his years from 1966 to 1973 in hospitals, in a wheelchair, or on crutches.
Evel Knievel was a one-of-a-kind entertainer who was way before his time. His death-defying stunts entertained millions and made him millions, but in the end, he paid a heavy price in injuries and the damage to his body.