The Sunday before last -- on April Fool's Day -- Evel appeared at Robert Schuller
's massive Crystal Cathedral
in Orange County. No, he didn't jump his motorbike over the monstrous building. Rather, Schuller took a break from assaulting flight attendants
to personally baptize Evel.
Naturally, being Evel Knievel, a humble ceremony in a modest community church near his Florida home simply wouldn't do. Instead, he had to fly across the country to get baptized before a congregation of 4,000. He also reportedly delivered a 20-minute speech, inspiring between 400 and 600 attendees to get similarly baptized right on the spot. For us Evel fans who couldn't be present, the event will appear on an upcoming episode of Schuller's globally televised Hour of Power
broadcast. This I gotta see...
By most accounts, Evel had a non-religious upbringing, but that didn't stop him from addressing the topic over the years. At a 1974 press conference, he quipped: "I'd like to go to the Evel Knievel Heaven, where there's a motorcycle jump that I could make every day and never miss, a river of beer, a golf course I can par every day, where there are a lot of easy, good-looking broads, no state tax, no federal tax, and no politicians!"
He took religion a bit more seriously as his '74 Snake River Canyon jump drew near. In his final pre-jump interview, just moments before blastoff, he told David Frost: "I've never been afraid in my life of dying under any circumstances. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ, I'm a Christian."
But, after surviving the crash, he continued his philandering, hard-drinking ways, and he did time in prison for beating up Sheldon Saltman with a baseball bat
. Evel soon separated from his long-suffering wife Linda, who became a born-again Christian. Then, in the mid-'80s, Evel followed suit: he found God a second time, leading to a reconciliation with Linda and his newfound sobriety. In his 1986 documentary, The Last of the Gladiators
, Evel explained that in his hour of need, he asked God to send him an angel as living proof of the Almighty's existence: “Let this angel talk to me and tell me that you're real, that I better abide by the Ten Commandments, and that I better believe in God and do what's right."
Sure enough, God sent Evel an "angel" in the form of his baby daughter; three months after the film's release, Evel was arrested in Kansas City for soliciting a prostitute. He backslid once again, leaving Linda for a woman 31 years his junior and eventually getting a liver transplant from his copious boozing. He went so far as to attack Linda's "fucking Christian belief," stating, "I don't believe all that crap in the bible." Around the same time, he told the defunct web site Big Bikes
, "I don't believe in that 'God through Jesus Christ' anymore. I think it's a bunch of bullshit." As for televangelists like Schuller and his ilk, Evel told the defunct magazine Popsmear
, "Why should you give Jimmy Swaggart money? He'll just go spend it on a whore. Why should you give Jim Bakker money? He’s just gonna go spend it on some homo someplace."
So what accounts for Evel's latest awakening? Does it have anything to do with his rapidly declining health? Not necessarily, as he's lived most of his life cheating death, whether through cycle crashes or alcoholism. Is it the influence of Linda, who's remained a devout Christian all along? Or the influence of hard-partying son Robbie, another born-again who gives Jesus public shout-outs at his performances? My guess is that it's simply Evel's hazy, doped-up mental state. In a recent USA Today
story, Evel said that a "morphine pump" stapled to his abdomen "sends morphine and synthetic heroin into my back 24 hours a day... It affects your thinking, your brain."
Whatever the reason, Evel simply called Schuller out of the blue, telling him, "Dr. Schuller, I've accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior." In this interview
, he tries to sort it out: "I don't know what happened to me. I didn't see it on a TV show, or see it in the newspaper or hear it on the radio or read it in the bible..." (Though Evel admits he saw Andy Griffith on Schuller's show weeks earlier...) "Something happened to me just so seriously that I just all of a sudden woke up... I know that when I leave this earth, God's going to take care of me, and I'm going to be all right. God has got me in the palm of his hand. When I die, I'm going to heaven."
Now, after finding Jesus a third
time, will it stick? And if it does, will he finally apologize to Sheldon Saltman and ask for his forgiveness? Will he stop living in sin with his second ex-wife? Will he stop lying about all his accomplishments? Will he stop taking the Lord's name in vain in every other sentence? Does his baptism automatically negate a lifetime of behaving like a total asshole?
Of course, this is all between Evel and God -- assuming God exists -- but it's fun to speculate. I can't wait to watch Evel's televised baptism, which will air the weekend after next. Check your local listings