The Evel Knievel documentary “Being Evel” premiered in Hollywood Wednesday, complete with a star-studded red carpet and an immaculately restored Mack show truck.
"Being Evel" paints a picture of the iconic daredevil, exploring all sides of Knievel, from the courageous showman to the hard-living con man he sometimes was in private.
In addition to the famous leather suits and motorcycles, Knievel’s 1974 Mack FS cabover, "Big Red," was parked outside the theater, painstakingly rebuilt in a partnership between Mack Trucks, Historic Harley Davidson and Lathan McKay of Evel Knievel Enterprises. Mack Trucks provided two Pinnacle models and lowboy trailers to haul the show truck between events.
McKay is a former professional skateboarder turned filmmaker who became interested in and obsessed with Knievel’s life and memorabilia and is now a preeminent historian on the man. The Mack restoration took about 1 ½ years to complete and was finished only two days before it was unveiled at Evel Knievel days in Butte, Mont., the daredevil’s hometown.
The unique vehicle was a customized straight truck with living quarters that towed behind it a trailer carrying his motorcycles and jumping equipment. Big Red is touring the country with Evel Knievel Enterprises and looks every bit the part, with a bold '70s-era paint job, leather interior and vintage wood paneling.
The vehicle had been languishing in a rusted heap in Florida in the collection of a man who was, at first, unwilling to part with it. “On the cab there was more sky than metal,” said Mike Patterson, owner of Historic Harley-Davidson.
Lathan and Patterson used archival photos of the truck to re-create the vehicle as it was in Knievel’s possession. Costing around $300,000 to restore from the ground up, the project was a labor of love for McKay. “It was literally a bolt-by-bolt restoration,” he said.
The film was produced in part by Johnny Knoxville, a modern-day daredevil of sorts known from MTV's reality-TV series Jackass, and he was featured prominently in the film. While his focus was primarily on the man, Knoxville felt his life would be compelling to others who live their lives on the road.
“Truckers are focused on safety, and when you spend all your time on your toes and focused on safety, I think it’s good to see someone who ... wasn’t so focused on safety,” said Knoxville. “I think it’s a wonderful release for the truckers to see how Evel lived his life - and I assume that a lot of truckers grew up fans of his.”
Knoxville and other members of the Jackass crew attended the premiere, including Wee Man, Dave England and Jeff Tremaine, as well as professional BMX rider Mat Hoffman. The film featured footage of Knievel attempting stunts that he often planned to do before he knew they were possible, sometimes resulting in horrifying crashes that left his body a ragged heap. It was in his recklessness that drawing parallels between Evel Knievel and the Jackass crew was plain to see.
Beyond the stunts, the most fascinating parts of the film reveal a man from a different era, part '70s flash and bravado but also part '50s Midwestern brashness and drive. Knievel’s personality and tenacity would serve him well in forcing his way into popularity and fame, but it was often disastrous on a personal level.
His gaudy suits, motorcycles, jets and show truck all built up the image of a self-made man whose rise to fame was matched only by his meteoric downfall. For fans of the daredevil, "Being Evel" is a revealing and nostalgic look at someone who shaped an entire generation of thrill-seekers and road warriors.