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Where Evel Lurks
Richard Hoffer
October 07, 1996
Former daredevil Evel Knievel is still a gambler, so look for him in Las Vegas
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October 07, 1996

Where Evel Lurks

Former daredevil Evel Knievel is still a gambler, so look for him in Las Vegas

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At 11 p.m. Evel, who has been camped out at the Cloud Nine for a couple of hours since dinner, suddenly decides it's important to get to Caesars Palace and bet college football. Krystal and her chips are gathered from Maxim's casino, a stack of crisp hundreds is withdrawn from a safety box, and Evel's entourage piles into a limo for the drive—a long block. Evel folds and unfolds his betting list, a scrawl of games he likes, 11 on Saturday alone. "I like Miami," he says. Krystal approves. "Won $100,000 in football last year," he says.

But the book at Caesars is closed. Krystal goes off to a blackjack table, and Evel finds another bar, fits into it and orders a Clamato. Suddenly he is surrounded, as he was earlier in the evening, by well-wishers, autograph seekers, older women who remind him, "You used to be so-o-o handsome." Evel enjoys this, not only because it appeals to his considerable ego but also because he just likes being with people. Some cowpokes, ZZ Top look-alikes in Vegas for a miners' convention, approach him, and everybody compares life underground. "Worked a mile below," Evel says, "mining copper for Anaconda." Everyone nods.

This is not a bad place for Evel to be. The cocktail waitresses, not a few of whom remember him from that 1967 jump at Caesars, are all over him. "If you want to kiss Evel," says one of the old-time girls, "you better do it now, while Krystal's gone." Evel laughs nervously, as if there is more history here than he would like to reveal. And they do kiss him. "They were awfully nice to me back then," Evel says, wiping lipstick from his cheek.

It is interesting that Caesars inspires no dread in him. Sailing across those fountains out front, then losing control and clattering across the asphalt for 200 feet, coming to rest at actress Linda Evans's feet ("She got pictures," he says) in one of his most horrific accidents—it all has no grip on him whatsoever. "The one thing I remember," he says, glancing out from the bar to the casino floor, "was coming downstairs for the jump. I'd had my good-luck shot of Wild Turkey, like always, walking past the tables and stopping at roulette and betting $100 on red. It was black. I thought nothing of it, just put my helmet under my arm and kept walking."

He was luckier in 1989, when he got Robbie to use a safety landing ramp on his avenging jump at Caesars. "He didn't want to do it," Evel says. "Almost had to fistfight him. But if he hadn't used it"—he demonstrates with cocktail napkins—"he'd have been decapitated. I don't get any credit for that."

Worse, Evel and Robbie, who makes his living the way his father used to, have hardly spoken since then, for reasons Evel will not discuss. "Breaks your heart when your son doesn't love you," Evel says, "but he's without doubt the best motorcycle performer there is."

All in the past. Evel holds no grudge against Caesars, against anybody. He only wishes the sports book were open now. "Let's go," he says suddenly. He scoops up Krystal from the blackjack table, but she's furious because, unbeknownst to Evel, she was embarrassed by all the attention he got earlier that night from women. When Evel tries to soothe her by giving her $500 to bet on red at the roulette table, she stalks off, leaving him confused and, of course, embarrassed. They had a slightly more unpleasant set-to in 1994, when police arrested Evel on suspicion of beating Krystal at a motel in Sunnyvale, Calif. But the case disappeared overnight when she refused to press charges, saying only that they'd had "an argument and a tussle." Regardless of what happened then, this night's incident won't develop quite as famously. In fact, Evel is more rueful than anything else—a beleaguered member of the ever-dim male gender. "Next time," he says, pointing to a companion, "we're going to do this in your town, with your girlfriend." He calls for the limo and rides back to the Maxim, fingering his bet sheet.

The following morning he bets the Miami game twice, $1,000 per, and plans to bet a host of other games smaller and Notre Dame huge the first half. He says he is on a kind of a roll. A Blue Angels pilot came up to him and told him that one of his public service announcements years back—wear a helmet, don't do drugs, who knows—turned his life around. This happens all the time: Evel's lifetime of risk is rewarded in ways he never dreamed of. Bets made, tickets cashed.

Didn't he say he was the biggest gambler in town? He's the biggest and the best. Miami kills Rutgers that night, just kills 'em.

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