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Open Up and Bleed
Field Guides to Evel Knievel's Injuries
"Color me lucky" was Evel Knievel's motto, and it couldn't have been more fitting: perhaps the most amazing aspect of his cockamamie career was living to tell about the staggering extend of bodily harm he sustained.

According to the 1975 Guinness Book of World Records, Evel "suffered 431 bone fractures in one season, 1972." Doing some math, that averages out to each of his 206 bones breaking slightly more than twice in the calendar year, timewise more than one broken bone per day. Others claimed that Evel had broken every bone in his body, which would apparently include the three little bones in each ear.

Despite the Guinness figure, Evel says he only broke about 37 bones in his 16 years of performing. He claims he spent more than half the years 1966 to 1973 in hospitals, in a wheelchair or on crutches, recovering from an aggregate of injuries that one doctor suggested five to ten severe auto accidents would produce. By the time he quit performing in 1981, Evel had undergone 14 major operations, with several steel plates and metal pins set into him.

However, retirement had been just as rough on him. In the last decade of his life, he had an artificial hip installed after a golf-course tumble broke his old, beat-up hip; he twice slipped and fell in his whirlpool, breaking some ribs and a knee; he had a spinal-fusion surgery, attaching three steel plates in his back with six screws. In 1999 he received a liver transplant, after his old liver had been destroyed by hepatitis C and alcoholism, yet he continued to drink afterwards. He also suffered from a bleeding esophagus, a stroke, arthritis, diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. A 2006 AP story reported that Evel "stays close to an oxygen tank, ingests 50 pills a day and sucks on lollipops that deliver fentanyl, a heavy-duty painkiller." In a 2007 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."

He died on November 30, 2007, due to the pulmonary fibrosis.

Though the text in the images below is largely illegible, suffice it to say that it simply describes the parts of Evel's body he busted up. While these individual images outline Evel's various injuries, collectively they form a chronological outline of how Evel's injuries have been illustrated in different sources over the years. Let's break it down.

Print ad (1970).
The first known Evel injury diagram, using a 1967 photo of Evel addressing the crowd at Caesar's Palace to promote a 1970 Vancouver jump. Note that what was listed here as a "brain concussion" (from the Caesar's Palace crash) was later embellished in the images below to read "skull fracture, unconscious 29 days."

Heinous #2 (September 8, 1994).
Not having seen any such graphic before, I dreamed up this image for the all-Evel issue of my fanzine Heinous. I photocopied the skeleton from a children's health book at the Multnomah County Library, then, drawing from my research, I added in the appropriate lines.

Slant #6 (Spring 1996).
This awesome graphic by Mike Caulkins accompainied my article, "The Crash Heard 'Round the World: Evel Knievel vs. the Caesar's Palace Fountains," which appeared in the now-defunct Urban Outfitters quarterly circular. Though Caulkins used my text, his illustration is far superior.

Car and Driver (October 1998).
T.W. Benjamin's graphic accompanied Jerry Garrett's article "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evel." Like Calkins's illustration, it outlined Evel's costume, but it also used a stupid font. At the bottom it says, "Source: Evel Knievel."

FHM (UK ed., Oct. 1998).
This generic x-ray, credited to "Science Photo Library," accompanied the article "God's Own Stuntman" by plagiarist Stuart Barker. It lists a mere seven injuries, described with semi-accuracy by Martin Daubney.

Evel Ways (1999).
A 1986 portrait was used for this diagram in his '99 autobiography. The text is near-verbatim to Car and Driver's, only adding "upper back broken twice," and replacing "fractured skull" with "skull fracture, unconscious 29 days, Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas." (2000).
A near-verbatim copy of the Evel Ways text, except for the "broken coccyx." View in its original context.

Xpression Sports (2003).
This Australian magazine's graphic accompanied Scott Bishop's article "Evel Knievel: King of Stuntmen." The text is identical to's.

T-shirt design (2006).
The text is identical to the Evel Ways graphic, except with the additional captions. This cartoon makes it look like Evel had stood neck-deep in a pool of piranhas. Found on eBay.

Maxim (December 2007).
Maxim emailed me in October 2007, saying "We are interested in using some of the pictures on your website and was wondering where you got them from." The following month, this image credited to John MacNeill appeared in their magazine... Busted! (December 22, 2009).
They call Evil [sic] Knievel both a "badass" and a "class act," and state "He currently holds the record of the most broken bones, at 35." Really? See it here. (2010).
Taken from a much larger graphic, found here.

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Last updated on January 13, 2011.

© 2004-2011 Steve Mandich