“One day you’re a hero, the next day you’re gone.”

December 4th, 2007 by Larry Smith

If you didn’t have a little moment when you heard that Evel Knievel died, then you’re not: 1) Between the ages of 25-80; 2) Someone who ever dreamed of being a daredevil; 3) A good American. OK, that last item’s a little much, but still: Evel Knievel was an American original, and, let’s face it, had a totally cool name.

A long, thoughtful obit in The New York Times explains:

As he told the story, he acquired the name Evel as a boy. Arrested for stealing hubcaps, he was taken to jail, where the police were holding a man named Knofel, whom they called “Awful Knofel.”

They decided to call Robert “Evil Knievel.” The name stuck, and some years later, Mr. Knievel legally took the name Evel, changing the “i” to “e” because, he said, he thought it looked better.

For life lessons from the man himself, read Evel’s What I’ve Learned column in Esquire. The “What I’ve Learned” column itself is one of the best single pages in all of magazines, in which an icon is interviewed and then his words are stripped down to their bare essence. (My wife recently asked me why I carry around a tattered “What I’ve Learned” from Dick Van Dyke in my inside coat pocket; I told her I had my reasons). I had planned on writing a six-word memoir for the man who made an impression on me as a young, mildly daredevilling boy, but when I found these words from his Esquire column I realized no six could serve him as well as these 10 from the man himself: “One day you’re a hero, the next day you’re gone.”

Evel Knievel photo from Flickr user teadrinker

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