Family members say Knievel had ups and downs in Nevada
RENO – From visits to his mother in Reno to his spectacular crash at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Evel Knievel experienced both highs and lows in Nevada, family members say.
The motorcycle stuntman steadily increased the length of his jumps until, on New Year’s Day 1968, he was nearly killed when he jumped 150 feet across the fountains in front of Caesar’s Palace. He cleared the fountains, but the crash-landing put him in a coma for a month.
His son, Robbie Knievel, followed in his father’s daredevil footsteps and successfully completed the same jump in April 1989.
Evel Knievel died Friday at age 69. He had been in failing health for years, suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable condition that scarred his lungs. He had undergone a liver transplant in 1999 after nearly dying of hepatitis C, likely contracted through a blood transfusion after one of his many spills. He also suffered two strokes in recent years.
Longtime friend and promoter Billy Rundle said Knievel had trouble breathing at his Clearwater, Fla., condominium and died before an ambulance could get him to a hospital.
“He loved Las Vegas. It was part of his spirit. Risk-taking and big things,” said his son, Kelly Knievel, of Las Vegas.
Evel Knievel returned to the fountain in 1999 to marry Krystal Kennedy. The couple split their time between Clearwater and his hometown of Butte, Mont., but he always returned to Las Vegas a couple times a year, Kelly Knievel said.
He enjoyed gambling, golf and visiting old friends in Las Vegas, he said. Despite his fame, he ignored Strip hotels and stayed in his motor home outside other resorts.
“We are deeply saddened by the news of Evel’s passing,” Gary Selesner, Caesar’s Palace president, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “He was a daredevil’s daredevil, and a gentleman with a heart of gold.”
To the north, Reno was a second home to Knievel while he grew up with his grandparents in Butte. His mother, whose maiden name was Ann Keough, moved to Reno after her divorce.
“He was here just about every summer and alternate holidays,” said his half-sister, Loretta Young, 60, of Reno.
Knievel made the visits to Reno with his younger brother, Nic. His mother married again and had two more children, including Loretta Young. His mother lived in Reno until she died in 1985, and was buried in Butte.
“It was difficult for the boys to be uprooted from what they knew as home,” Young told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “The decision was that the boys would come here and visit a lot.”
In recent years, a plan to open an Evel Knievel museum in Las Vegas failed to get off the ground because he didn’t think the plans were grandiose enough to carry his name, Kelly Knievel said.
– Associated Press writer Mitch Stacy in Clearwater, Fla., contributed to this report.