At rest, which is a physically enforced condition for him, he is a startling sight. Diamonds of odd provenance ("Redd Foxx, paid $50,000 for them," he says) catch the casino light, and his half leer gleams wickedly. There's a crookedness to him that you can't quite put your finger on. Over the years he has broken 35 bones, he says ("Not every bone in my body, that's a common misconception"), and everything about him seems angular, his joints not in concert. But here he seems comfortable, as if his skeleton had been restructured for just this purpose: His body folds perfectly into the Cloud Nine bar in the Maxim Hotel in Las Vegas.
"I'm the biggest gambler in town," he says, by way of greeting. In Las Vegas? "Won $26,000 last week; bet the Packers at the half. Lost $6,700 on Bruce Seldon. Believe that? Had dinner with him two nights before the Tyson fight, and he's telling me how he's going to win this for his mother, how he's a Christian. Forget the money, I believed in the kid. But I like Miami this week, and I'm betting Notre Dame big the first half."
Evel Knievel sips a light beer. He's among old friends at the Maxim, the casino hotel where he usually stays. He has come to Las Vegas for a few days—had to drive a Pontiac Firebird onto a stage at a car show and went to the inaugural Indy race at Vegas's new speedway—but as usual when he visits Vegas, he will end up spending weeks, maybe a month, folded up in his living room, the Cloud Nine. The air-conditioned days go by, and Evel, insulated from time as we know it, makes the best of them. "Woody," he says to the bartender, "did I ever bet sports here?" Woody chuckles.
It is a strange ether that Evel floats in, but everyone's retirement is different, right? His is wildly intoxicating, exotic beyond anything the financial magazines promise. A jeweler named Sammy, who seems to be wearing his entire inventory, shows up to consult on earrings for Evel's girlfriend, Krystal Kennedy. Evel wants them to be two karats each, but Sammy, who looks like the last man on earth to argue for modesty, says one karat would be plenty. Evel shrugs. Less is more? Hardly. A shoeshine man appears at the bar. "The lizards look good, and the alligators look good," Evel says, "but I got six pair of shoes for you tomorrow." Evel looks into the shoeshine man's eyes. "You need anything, you O.K.?" The man shrugs, and Evel withdraws a rubber-banded wad of money from his pocket and peels off $30.
Woody produces another light beer, and the day turns to night. Evel says his doctors disagree on whether he has liver disease, but even he admits that he drinks too much. Just beer, though. "Had my last drink of Wild Turkey in 1989," he says, "the day after Robbie jumped Caesars." Was it his last drink because his son cleared the same 50-yard jump over the Caesars Palace fountains that Evel attempted on New Year's Eve of '67? (Evel came up short and ended up in a coma for 29 days.) "No, I'd just had enough," he says. The beer he drinks is often even lighter than it's meant to be. Krystal, a former member of the Florida State golf team and a feisty traveling companion, tops his glass with mineral water whenever he's not looking. Evel sips it and calls to Woody in mock alarm, "Is this beer flat?"
"Those were a bad 10 years, till 1990," Evel says, beginning one of those outrageous yarns he loves to spin. "Tough time. Made $60 million, spent 61.1 never cared about money, though. Lost $250,000 at blackjack once." That hurt? "Nah, had three million in the bank at the time."
Things Evel bought with his $60 million: "I had a 124-foot ship, an 87-foot yacht, a helicopter, a Learjet. I had trotters, Tennessee walkers, Appaloosas, quarter-horses and thoroughbreds. I had 14 motorcycles at one time. Cars, I don't know—five Rolls-Royces, terrible cars. Have a $280,000 Aston now. Had a million-dollar home on 8.9 acres in Butte." Other stuff too, like that diamond-encrusted walking stick filled with Wild Turkey. Rocket bikes and sky cycles. Who knows what all he bought?
Krystal appears, and, to absolutely no fanfare, Evel hands her an unmounted diamond he says is 6.5 karats. She met him at a golf tournament in Florida five years ago. He's going on 58, she's 26. They're quite a pair.
"A little big," she says, sizing up the stone alongside the one on the ring she's wearing.
"But do you love me?" he says.