Bad Boy No 7: Evel Knievel

The original daredevil had a rap sheet that was as long as his list of injuries

“Skinny little, rotten little bastard. I shoulda killed the little prick.” Sheldon Saltman was not one of Evel Knievel’s favourite people. A Hollywood promoter and self-confessed con man, he had worked with Knievel on the ill-fated Snake River Canyon jump promotional tour and, in August 1977.

He’d also published a book called Evel Knievel on Tour. Knievel was not amused with the contents. Not amused at all.  “He said I was a drug taker and that I hated my mother. He said I’d fucked every girl in Butte, Montana. My kids even had to quit high school over that book. And it broke my mother’s heart. I’ve never taken a drug unless it was prescribed by a doctor. That guy was just a filthy stinkin’  little liar.”

Despite having both arms in plaster at the time, Knievel decided to get revenge on Saltman. He tracked him down to the Twentieth Century Fox studio lot in Los Angeles where he and an accomplice (who Knievel always refused to name) grabbed hold of Saltman while Evel repeatedly beat both his arms with a baseball bat.

The beating was so fierce it left Saltman with a compound fracture to his left arm and a broken right wrist, along with a multitude of bruises, aches and pains. Saltman’s left arm was so badly broken it required surgery to insert a metal plate to piece it back together. And the reason for Knievel specifically wanting to break Saltman’s arms? “So he don’t write any more goddamn books.”

The stuntman immediately turned himself into the police. He had known the consequences of his actions before tracking down Saltman and was fully prepared to pay the price. He appeared before Los Angeles County Superior Court on October 12, 1977.

Judge Edward Rafeedie told him, “We long ago abandoned frontier justice in California. No affront justifies such retaliation. It sets a terrible example.” Rafeedie sentenced Evel to six months in Los Angeles County Jail and ordered three years probation. But it was the financial punishment that hurt Knievel the most.      Horrified by the adverse publicity, his sponsors – including Ideal Toys which made the Knievel wind-up bikes – ended all association with him and destroyed his earning potential.

To make matters worse, Saltman filed a civil suit and was awarded $13 million in damages. He is still pursuing Knievel’s estate for payment.

The beating also spelt the end of Knievel’s jumping career and he spent most of the 1980s living in his tour bus, drinking his way round America on the run from the Inland Revenue Service who claimed he owed $1.7 million in unpaid taxes.

Knievel as ever, exaggerated the scale of his problems. “The IRS claim I owe them $21 million,” he boasted. “They can kiss my ass. The IRS is worse than the Gestapo.” An outlandish comparison, but typical of the increasingly marginalised stunt king.

There were further run-ins with the law. In 1986, the ageing daredevil was arrested for soliciting after trying to pick up an undercover policewoman posing as a prostitute. He was charged with disorderly conduct and fined $200 but the further damage to his reputation was worse than the court’s punishment.

Eight years later, when police were called out to investigate claims that Knievel was beating his young wife Krystal, they conducted a routine search of the Knievel’s car and found a veritable arsenal of guns.

The stash included a .44 calibre handgun with laser sights, two clips of ammunition, a loaded .38 calibre revolver, a stun gun, and an array of knives. “I’d rather have 12 people judge me on a jury than have six people carry me in a coffin to my grave,” Knievel growled, before being ordered to complete 200 hours of community service lecturing to kids on the wisdom of wearing crash helmets.

Although Krystal refused to press charges, Knievel did eventually admit to beating her up. “I’ve learned that loving someone doesn’t mean that you can love her for six days of the week and then beat the crap out of her on the seventh,” he later said of the matter.

In 2002, Knievel was served with a restraining order, banning him from trying to make contact with Krystal. Bizarrely, he in turn filed for one to be handed to Krystal claiming she often carried a gun and had threatened to shoot him.

The feuding pair eventually made up (once they were allowed to get within range of each other) and remained on good terms until Knievel died of pulmonary fibrosis on November 30, 2007.

With figures adjusted for interest, Sheldon Saltman is now seeking over $100 million from Knievel’s estate.

Bad Boy No 6: Jason Lawrence | Bad Boy No 8: Kim Ashkenazi