We've been surfing the USA (on the internet) like crazy lately to celebrate our Independence and God-given right to get tattooed, but there's one red, white, and blue blur that we just had to stop and admire: Evel Knievel (1938-2007). If you’re not familiar with Knievel, he was America's greatest professional stuntman, or should we say extreme performance artist, rivaling legends like Houdini. Knievel didn’t rely on parlor tricks to make magic, just a rumbling 650cc engine between his star-studded, leather-clad legs. Because of the insane feats that he pulled off and his smashing fashion sense, Knievel developed an immense fan base, as demonstrated by all these tattoos, during his lifetime.
The reputation of this legendary daredevil’s persona preceded him in life and still does in death. The human-cannonball of a character that Knievel built his career on was born just after a motorcycle crash when he was 18 years old. After he was arrested for reckless driving, one of the jailers started making fun of all the detainees' last names, rhyming them with words. When Knievel’s turn came up, all the cop could think of was “Evil Knievel,” which the soon-to-be stuntman thought was catchy. He kept the double-E spelling, though, because he didn’t want his audiences to associate him with the idea of evil.
Knievel began his foray into the world of stunt performance in an ironic way. Though he spent his life sustaining serious injuries, his first motorcycle jump almost harmed his audience instead of him. When attempting to clear a large wooden crate filled with diamondbacks, the back wheel of his bike clipped the container, releasing the snakes and sending the spectators fleeing for their lives. After this blunder, he continued to ramp up the intensity of his stunts, and as they got bigger and more dangerous, his fame grew. Over the course of his long and treacherous career, he sped down runways to launch himself over obstacles such as buses, a tank full of sharks, canyons, a waterfall, and even the fountain at Caesar’s Palace (a botched trick that nearly took his life, breaking almost every bone in his body and leaving him in a coma for a month).
Beyond his death-defying exploits as a stunt performer, Knievel’s style is what made him such a popular figure. He became known for his patriotic leather jumpsuits, which resembled the outfits that Elvis Presley wore, except that they were decked out with the colors of the US flag. This costume added a whole new level to his showmanship, making him stand out as a quintessentially American pop cultural icon. Seeing him fly by in this outfit filled his fans with an overwhelming sense of national pride, uniting them through the power of spectacle. As seen in these tattoos of a skeleton, sloth, and even Gonzo wearing it, Knievel’s ensemble was so impressive that it remains a cultural mainstay to this day, representing the heights people can achieve just as long as they’re willing to haul ass and aren’t afraid of coming in hot.
To see more high flying body art, make sure to speed over to these tattooists’ Instagram. Should you want to show your fandom for this motorcycling maniac, have one of them design a tattoo tribute to the one and only Evel Knievel for you.