It was a last-minute call that literally held a life-and-death decision for stunt king Robbie Knievel -- and until now nobody knew about the behind-the-scenes drama of the successful jump he almost didn’t make across The Mirage volcano.
Fox TV producers first urged Kaptain Knievel to consider not attempting the death-defying jump. Then they forbid him to do it, but he overruled them and executed it perfectly.
“I simply couldn’t let my fans down. I had to do the jump and risk whatever would happen because there were so many people watching on the Strip and across the country on television,” Robbie said.
My friend, executive producer Jeff Androsky, told me what led up to the drama of “the night where everything went wrong but turned out better than ever thought possible.”
He said the initial problem began at 6 p.m. “I’d been working with Las Vegas Metro Police since June about the exact moment the Strip would be closed. They were wonderful, but because the Nevada Highway Patrol didn’t shut the I-15 expressway ramps at 5 p.m. as promised, we got a very late start. To be honest, it was 7:30 p.m. before we could start building the ramps. That left us only 90 minutes to get everything into place, assembled, locked down and ready for the jump.
“There was zero margin for anything at that point. In fact, to be honest, we were still building the ramp when the TV show went up live to New York! The ramps weren’t even in place or finished as we went to air! Those were about the length of the bridge between the Treasure Island over the Strip into The Venetian, so that was a lot of stuff to drag into place by more than 100 crew members.
“That meant Robbie had never even seen it. We then made a bad decision of leaving the volcano to roar nonstop to entertain the watching crowds, and so we’d have visuals to show the national TV audience since we were still erecting the ramp. We didn’t realize that the 900-degree hot fireballs and the spraying mist would actually cause condensation on the take-off and landing ramps. In trying to entertain everybody, we were actually making an ice rink for Robbie. It looked exactly like early morning dew on the grass.
“He came out to do his practice runs and was still in his street clothes. He did five runs along the Strip just to get the sound of the bike right, as there was no speedometer. He wanted to hear the engine firing properly and if there’d be no problem with the brakes or the chain. But all this time, he still hadn’t even gotten on the ramp itself.
“We were ready to roll, and then when Robbie was finally able to get on the ramp, he was slipping and sliding everywhere. It was so wet and slick. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt him or worse. I didn’t want him sliding sideways on take-off, and certainly not on landing because that could have been an eerie duplication of his father’s disastrous jump over the Caesars fountains exactly 41years ago. We’d had the fire and water fountains going nonstop for 90 minutes by the time he got on the ramp. We’d forgotten in all the deadline drama that the sun had been up all day -- probably getting over 60 degrees, and then it dropped down to 40 by time of the jump -- and now we had a lot of water everywhere.
“At that point, we urged him to seriously consider not making the jump. We were right up against the clock. Everything could go wrong. Nothing had been tested. The clock had run out. Robbie hadn’t even eyed the ramps. Then we ordered him not to do it. I didn’t want him harmed. He’s my friend. I didn’t want him injured -- or even worse. Fox didn’t want him hurt, and we couldn’t make him do it against his will.
“But if Robbie feels it’s right, if he senses it’s OK, he’ll go for it. He turned to me and said: ‘I’m going. We’re not backing out. This is what I have to do, whatever the circumstances.’ He’s the best in the world at this. He knows his own limits.”
Robbie then took up the story: “I knew what I faced, but there was this sense of comfort, confidence as it were. I didn’t want to wait. It felt good to me, so I went for it. I came down the ramp fine. I got over the first three big fireballs but actually went right through the last one. It felt so fantastic to jump right through the flames -- I didn’t even feel them!”
Jeff added: “What a shot! We had him in a tight close-up going into the flames and then cut away to show him coming right out of the fire. It looked like he was escaping from hell. That was the absolute money shot of all time. But within seconds, we changed from that excitement to the fear of him landing. Robbie always has a doctor, a heart surgeon specialist from Montana on jumps like this. He explains that if the landing is disastrous, the aorta tears from the heart and you internally bleed to death. If that happened, the doctor was on hand to stop that happening. So you can imagine how the two of them celebrated in his trailer when he landed without the slightest slip or skid.”
Click HERE to read our New Year’s Eve advance interview with Robbie.
Said Robbie: “I’m happier than you can imagine. Everything could have gone wrong and been disastrous -- all out of my hands and control. Fortunately, everything went well, so all of us were happy. I did as I promised. I saluted my father at the start of the jump and again after I’d landed. It is all about respect for him. I do this for him.
“We all went up to my suite to watch the West Coast tape-delay broadcast -- and it’s amazing to look at it on television. We knew everything that went against us, and the audience never knew a thing. That’s the way it should be because in show business, the show must go on -- whatever it takes.”
Afterwards, Robbie joined Kid Rock’s midnight countdown party at Moon in the Palms, and then returned to his “favorite chair” at the Revolution ultra lounge in The Mirage. He called it a night shortly before 4 a.m.
He summed up: “I am very tired. However, I’m also very relaxed. Now I rest and relax for a while. Then maybe next month, we do another spectacular jump at the Hard Rock Indian casino in Florida, and in the summer I want to duplicate my father’s jump over a lineup of London Transport buses in Wembley Stadium. I managed to equal his jump over 13 buses, but now I want to claim a new Guinness World Record jumping over 16 of them.”