Famed daredevil stunt rider Evel Knievel is shown in this 1989 file photo. Knievel, the hard-living motorcycle daredevil whose exploits made him an international icon in the 1970s, died today.



Dec. 1, 2007, 11:26PM

CLEARWATER, Fla.  —Evel Knievel, the red-white-and-blue-spangled motorcycle daredevil whose jumps over Greyhound buses, live sharks and Idaho’s Snake River Canyon made him an international icon in the 1970s, died Friday. He was 69.

Knievel’s death was confirmed by his granddaughter, Krysten Knievel. He had been in failing health for years, suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable condition that scarred his lungs.

Knievel had undergone a liver transplant in 1999 after nearly dying of hepatitis C, likely contracted through a blood transfusion after one of his bone-shattering spills.

Immortalized in the Washington’s Smithsonian Institution as “America’s Legendary Daredevil,” Knievel was best known for a failed 1974 attempt to jump Snake River Canyon on a rocket-powered cycle and a spectacular crash at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. He suffered nearly 40 broken bones before he retired in 1980.

Though Knievel dropped off the pop culture radar in the ’80s, the image of the high-flying motorcyclist clad in patriotic, star-studded colors was never erased from public consciousness. He always had fans and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years.

His death came just two days after it was announced that he and rapper Kanye West had settled a federal lawsuit over the use of Knievel’s trademarked image in a popular West music video.

Knievel made a good living selling his autographs and endorsing products. Thousands came to Butte, Mont., every year as his legend was celebrated during the “Evel Knievel Days” festival.

“They started out watching me bust my ass, and I became part of their lives,” Knievel said. “People wanted to associate with a winner, not a loser. They wanted to associate with someone who kept trying to be a winner.”

For the tall, thin daredevil, the limelight was always comfortable, the gab glib. To Knievel, there always were mountains to climb, feats to conquer.

“No king or prince has lived a better life,” he said in a May 2006 interview with The Associated Press. “You’re looking at a guy who’s really done it all. And there are things I wish I had done better, not only for me but for the ones I loved.”

He had a knack for outrageous yarns: “Made $60 million, spent 61. …Lost $250,000 at blackjack once. … Had $3 million in the bank, though.”

He began his daredevil career in 1965 when he formed a troupe called Evel Knievel’s Motorcycle Daredevils, a touring show in which he performed stunts such as riding through fire walls, jumping over live rattlesnakes and mountain lions and being towed at 200 mph behind dragster race cars.

In 1966 he began touring alone, barnstorming the West and doing everything from driving the trucks, erecting the ramps and promoting the shows. In the beginning he charged $500 for a jump over two cars parked between ramps.

He steadily increased the length of the jumps until, on New Year’s Day 1968, he was nearly killed when he jumped 151 feet across the fountains in front of Caesar’s Palace. He cleared the fountains but the crash landing put him in the hospital in a coma for a month.

His son, Robbie, successfully completed the same jump in April 1989.

In the years after the Caesar’s crash, the fee for Evel’s performances increased to $1 million for his jump over 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in London — the crash landing broke his pelvis — to more than $6 million for the Sept. 8, 1974, attempt to clear the Snake River Canyon in Idaho in a rocket-powered “Skycycle.” The money came from ticket sales, paid sponsors and ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”

The parachute malfunctioned and deployed after takeoff. Strong winds blew the cycle into the canyon, landing him close to the swirling river below.

On Oct. 25, 1975, he jumped 14 Greyhound buses at Kings Island in Ohio.

Knievel decided to retire after a jump in the winter of 1976 in which he was again seriously injured. He suffered a concussion and broke both arms in an attempt to jump a tank full of live sharks in the Chicago Amphitheater. He continued to do smaller exhibitions around the country with his son, Robbie.

Many of his records have been broken by daredevil motorcyclist Bubba Blackwell.

Knievel also dabbled in movies and TV, starring as himself in “Viva Knievel” and with Lindsay Wagner in an episode of the 1980s TV series “Bionic Woman.” George Hamilton and Sam Elliott each played Knievel in movies about his life.

Evel Knievel toys accounted for more than $300 million in sales for Ideal and other companies in the 1970s and ’80s.

Born Robert Craig Knievel in the copper mining town of Butte on Oct. 17, 1938, Knievel was raised by his grandparents. He traced his career choice back to the time he saw Joey Chitwood’s Auto Daredevil Show at age 8.

Outstanding in track and field, ski jumping and ice hockey at Butte High School, he went on to win the Northern Rocky Mountain Ski Association Class A Men’s ski jumping championship in 1957 and played with the Charlotte Clippers of the Eastern Hockey League in 1959.

He also formed the Butte Bombers semiprofessional hockey team, acting as owner, manager, coach and player.

Knievel also worked in the Montana copper mines, served in the Army, ran his own hunting guide service, sold insurance and ran Honda motorcycle dealerships. As a motorcycle dealer, he drummed up business by offering $100 off the price of a motorcycle to customers who could beat him at arm wrestling.

At various times and in different interviews, Knievel claimed to have been a swindler, a card thief, a safe cracker, a holdup man.

Evel Knievel married hometown girlfriend, Linda Joan Bork, in 1959. They separated in the early 1990s. They had four children, Kelly, Robbie, Tracey and Alicia.

Robbie Knievel followed in his father’s footsteps as a daredevil, jumping a moving locomotive in a 200-foot, ramp-to-ramp motorcycle stunt on live television in 2000. He also jumped a 200-foot-wide chasm of the Grand Canyon.

Knievel lived with his longtime partner, Krystal Kennedy-Knievel, splitting his time between their Clearwater condo and Butte. They married in 1999 and divorced a few years later but remained together. Knievel had 10 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.



Hall of Famer Bill Willis of the Cleveland Browns waves after he was honored at halftime of the Hall of Fame football game on Aug. 6, 2006, in Canton, Ohio. Willis, a two-time All-American at Ohio State and Hall of Famer with the Browns, helped break down pro football’s color barrier in the 1940s.

TONY DEJAK: Associated Press


Bill Willis, tackle for Ohio State, in an undated photo. Willis died Tuesday evening, an Ohio State spokesman said. He was 86.

Associated Press


Dec. 1, 2007, 6:20PM

Bill Willis, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and one of four black players to break the sport’s color barrier in 1946, died at 86.

Willis played both offense and defense for Cleveland from 1946 to 1953 and helped the Browns advance to the championship game of the All-America Football Conference in each of his eight seasons, winning four. The Browns won the 1950 National Football League championship, with Willis making a game-saving tackle against the New York Giants during the team’s playoff run.

Willis and fellow Hall of Fame teammate Marion Motley broke into the AAFC in 1946, the same year Woody Strode and Kenny Washington of the Los Angeles Rams first played in the NFL. Willis had been the last surviving member of the group, who helped desegregate pro football a year before Major League Baseball had its first black player.



The Seattle Seahawks drafted Aubrey “Glenn” Starks in the 1978 NFL draft.



Nov. 27, 2007, 1:26AM

Aubrey “Glenn” Starks, a former star football player who devoted his life to coaching and mentoring at-risk children, died suddenly last week of a heart attack. He was 53.

Starks was born in Houston on Jan. 11, 1954, the son of Aubrey and Willie Lois Starks.

A standout athlete from a young age, Starks captained both the basketball and football teams at Jesse H. Jones High School before playing wide receiver at Texas A&I, now Texas A&M-Kingsville.

“As an athlete Glenn was superb,” recalled Ron Harms, who served as the school’s offensive coordinator when Starks played there in the ’70s. “He had the most amazing hands that I’d ever seen, before or since, really. He would catch anything that was anywhere near him.”

In Starks’ four years with the Texas A&I Javelinas, the team went 46-1-1 and won three NAIA championships. In his senior year, the Javelinas won their fourth straight Lone Star Conference title and Starks was named NAIA All-American. In 1983, he was inducted into the Javelina Hall of Fame.

Despite his great talent, Starks never sought the spotlight, Harms said. “He was quiet in his demeanor,” he said. “He never cared for accolades and he was a very unselfish, upright kind of a guy.”

In 1978, the Seattle Seahawks drafted Starks in the sixth round of the NFL draft, but after a couple of years as a backup on several teams, Starks left the NFL hoping to see some game time. In the mid-80s, he played for the San Antonio Gunslingers in the U.S. Football League before deciding to hang up his cleats in favor of a coaching and teaching career.

“At first he missed it because he really wanted to be out there in that field like any athlete, but then he realized there was a different purpose for his life and that was going to be to work with young children,” said Rhonda Belt Rhea, his lifelong friend and sister-in-law. “He was disappointed, but he was always willing to understand and accept what God wanted for him. He was the most spirit-filled, kind man.”

Carried by a sense of mission, Starks returned to south Houston’s E.W. Cullen Middle School, where he was once a student.

As a physical education teacher and coach at Cullen for 14 years, Starks sought out children in need of guidance and offered them a sympathetic ear and moral direction. He also mentored at-risk kids with the Harris County Aquatics Program and founding member of Equippers Bible Fellowship.

“He had a real propensity for finding the kid that had the most trouble in his or her life and smoothing the waters for that kid,” said Ronald Mumphery, Cullen’s principal. “He was able to reach them on their level and make them feel there was a chance to be successful in life.”

On Nov. 19, Starks was leading a P.E. class at Cullen when he collapsed.

His wife, Natalie, who met Starks when both were students at Cullen decades ago, raced to the school in time to say goodbye. He died holding her hand.

“You couldn’t have a better, more loving husband,” she said. “He was the gentlest man I have ever met in my life.”

In addition to his wife, survivors include children J. Kristopher Ross Le-Roy, Steffany Lauren Starks, Stacey Loren Starks, Glenn Micheal Starks, and Ian “Aubrey” Ross Quarles.

A memorial service will be held today at 11 a.m. at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, 3826 Wheeler in Houston.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Starks’ memory to Bank of America a/c 586008591938 for Equippers Bible Fellowship, 9121 Stella Link, #C, Houston, TX 77025.



Gatorade inventor Dr. Robert Cade drinks his favorite flavor of the sports drink during a dedication of a historic marker recognizing the birthplace of Gatorade at the University of Florida on Nov. 16, 2007.

Ray Carson: AP


Nov. 27, 2007, 4:20PM

Pick a flavor — Rain, Frost, Lemon-Lime, Fierce, AM, Xtremo — and drink a toast today to Dr. Robert Cade, inventor of the concoction once nicknamed “Cade’s Cola” and now known as Gatorade.

Cade died Tuesday in Jacksonville, Fla., from kidney failure, according to officials at the University of Florida, where he and three colleagues invented the billion-dollar sports drink industry in the mid-1960s. He was 80.

Much as Cade began his career at Florida as a relatively anonymous researcher and ended it as the star of a TV commercial — he’s the one who says “We called our stuff Gatorade” on the company’s ad narrated by sports announcer Keith Jackson — Gatorade has morphed from local curiosity to worldwide juggernaut, said CNBC anchor Darren Rovell, author of First In Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon.

“Nike does $14 billion in sales, and that is for every single thing it does from shoes to apparel,” Rovell said. “Gatorade is a singular item, and it does $5 billion in sales. It’s probably the second most-relevant brand in all of sports.”

Cade and three colleagues developed Gatorade in 1965 to help the Florida Gators football team replace carbohydrates and electrolytes lost through sweat while playing in the swamp-like heat of Gainesville, Fla. The first batch cost $43 in supplies, and “sort of tasted like toilet bowl cleaner,” Dana Shires, one of Cade’s collaborators, told the Associated Press.

Researchers added sugar and lemon juice for flavor, and they left the rest to the likes of Steve Spurrier, the Florida quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy in 1966 while being fueled by Gatorade.

“The invention was great, but it needed the Florida Gators as a vehicle,” Rovell said. “There had been other sports drinks available, but this was the perfect storm with Steve Spurrier and a good football team.”

Cade and his collaborators were enmeshed in a legal dispute in the late 1960s and early ’70s over rights to the Gatorade brand. The dispute was settled by awarding the university a 20 percent share of royalties, which to date total about $100 million. Gatorade today is marketed by Quaker Oats, a division of PepsiCo Inc.

A native of San Antonio and a Navy veteran, Cade graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. He practiced in Missouri, New York and in Dallas before moving to Florida in 1961. His research specialties included kidney disease, hypertension, exercise physiology, autism and schizophrenia.

He continued to work for the university until retiring at age 76 in November 2004 and was inducted in April into the university’s athletics hall of fame.

Rovell, who while on vacation in Aruba raised a bottle of Gatorade — the wild berry Fierce flavor — in Cade’s honor, described him as “the ultimate eccentric guy. He loved playing the violin, and he collected Studebaker cars. He became a rich man, but he always lived in the same ranch-style house.

“When you would ask him what he was most proud of, he wouldn’t say, as you and I might, that he saw his invention every time he walked into a 7-Eleven or attended a sports event. He would talk about how Gatorade helped cure diarrhea-related diseases in Third World countries. He would always have some strange twist to talk about regarding the invention of Gatorade.”

Rovell said he never asked the inventor what he thought about the modern sports cliché of Gatorade showers delivered to winning coaches but said, “He probably would have said, ‘What a waste!’ ”



Nov. 30, 2007, 10:28PM

Kevin DuBrow, a gravelly voiced singer for Quiet Riot, a heavy-metal band that peaked in the 1980s, and who captivated decibel-tolerant fans with high-intensity musicality, quirky theatricality and a hint of menace, died at 52.

DuBrow’s music evolved from an early love of British rock acts that included Small Faces, Spooky Tooth, Rod Stewart and Humble Pie. He favored suspenders and hats, splashy antics and no-holds-barred banter. As Quiet Riot changed in membership and style, DuBrow was the persistent driving force in the group’s uninhibited aggressiveness.

Sometimes during concerts he dressed up in a strait jacket and metal face mask to appear as Quiet Riot’s mascot.

Quiet Riot is credited with helping start the 1980s glam-metal scene and is probably best known for its take on Slade’s Cum On Feel the Noize, which appeared on Metal Health (1983) and spent two weeks at No. 5 on Billboard’s list of hits.



Nov. 29, 2007, 11:45AM

He loved poetry and Shakespeare, exposing teens to art and literature

Tommy Jackson could soar to the heights of Shakespearean eloquence, then seamlessly switch to the nitty-gritty, hard-life language of the streets. But regardless of how he was talking, the message to his Worthing High School students always was the same: study, aspire and do the best you can do.

Jackson, who spent decades at Worthing teaching French and English before concluding his career as a vocational counselor, died Monday in Houston. He was 70.

An Amarillo native, Jackson was among the first generation of black students to attend the University of Texas at Austin. Jackson received an education degree from the university in June 1959, and often told friends of the challenges he faced at what was then a largely white institution.

Jackson, an only son and life-long bachelor, was fluent in Spanish and French, and joined the Worthing faculty as a French teacher in the early 1960s. For a time, he left the school to sell insurance and real estate. But by the early 1980s, he was back on staff teaching English.

Worthing English teacher Kathleen Evans recalled him as “a very smart, articulate man.”

“He was friendly, warm,” she said. “He was a good conversationalist. You could tell right away that he had been exposed to many environments, that he had done some traveling.”

Jackson was a sports fan who collected jazz and gospel records and was given to startling and inspiring his students with impromptu recitations from Shakespeare. “He loved poetry,” Evans said. “He was trained the old-fashioned way with a lot of memorization. And he forever emphasized to his students the importance of art and literature.”

“He had a deep appreciation of literature and the fine arts,” recalled another former colleague, Patricia Williams. “He always encouraged his students to learn more than one language.”

Jackson inspired his students — that was a consensus of many who taught with him. But he was capable, too, of speaking the vernacular of the streets. “He was versatile,” Evans said. “He knew how to switch from talking to an adult to talking to kids. He could relate to them.”

In the final phase of his Worthing career, Jackson became a coordinator for a school vocational program, a position that required him to help arrange training and jobs for his students, and to make sure teens met employment obligations.

“He was always going to their jobs, keeping things in order,” Williams said. “You know, teaching for him wasn’t a job, it was a hobby. He just loved it so much. He was the kindest person you ever met.”

Jackson retired from Worthing in 2003.

A funeral will be at 11 a.m. today at True Light Missionary Baptist Church, 7102 N. Main, with burial Saturday in Amarillo.



Nov. 28, 2007, 11:16AM

She helped open one of first clinics in her north side neighborhood

Marcelina Diaz, who raised 12 children but also dedicated herself to local politics, union work and improving health care for the poor, died Sunday. She was 77.

Born on April 26, 1930, in Michigan, Diaz was the youngest daughter of Mexican immigrants. She made her name and her life on Houston’s north side, where she helped start one of the neighborhood’s first clinics, Casa De Amigos, which is now run by the Harris County Hospital District.

She and other women in the neighborhood were worried about a rash of pregnant young girls too poor to afford health care. Working with local doctors and church leaders, they opened their first clinic in a Methodist church, family members say.

“They started it and, I tell you, those girls started coming in,” said Diaz’s oldest daughter, Rachael Burras.

Growing up, Diaz sang with her sisters on the city’s only Hispanic radio station. After high school, she took a job as a scrub nurse at St. Joseph Hospital, swaddling newborns and assisting with births.

Diaz gave up the job after marrying John Robles Hernandez, but never lost her interest in caring for the sick or needy, her family said. Burras remembers her mother chasing down neighborhood kids who weren’t wearing gloves during cold weather.

“She would use anything, even a pair of old socks on their hands, to keep them warm,” she said.

She also took in homeless people, cooking them meals of rice and beans.

After her first marriage ended in divorce, her marriage to Lorenzo Diaz brought out her political side, said daughter Regina Bennett.

Diaz campaigned for many local Democratic candidates, including U.S. Rep. Gene Green and Harris County Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino, and helped her husband organize unions.

Lorenzo Diaz was active in starting the local postal workers’ union, his children say, and his new wife joined the women’s auxiliary, following him to protests in Washington, D.C., and helping organize campaigns.

“We always had a lot of political people come over to the house,” Burras said.

The couple had 12 children: five from her first marriage, five from his first marriage and two together. While raising this brood in a four-bedroom house on Cochran, Diaz stayed active in community work and often worked as well.

In the 1970s, she owned beauty salons that served as gathering places for neighborhood women while Diaz styled their hair. Later, she worked with the San Jose Clinic, helping to teach new mothers about nutrition.

Despite her outside projects, Diaz’s children said, her primary love was her family. They said she never really got over the deaths of her son, Arthur Hernandez, in 1986 and her daughter, Veronica Hernandez, in 2004.

In October, doctors diagnosed a pain Diaz had been feeling in her side as adenocarcinoma, a cancer in the glandular tissue. She died three weeks later.

Survivors include sons Anthony Hernandez, John Robles Hernandez Jr. and Michael Angelo Diaz; daughters Rachael H. Burras and Regina D. Bennett; sisters Mary Ybarra and Annie Rangel; and brother Melchor Mata Jr.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 4918 Cochran.



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2 responses to “IN REMEMBRANCE, 12-2-2007

  1. Stephanie B.

    All these greats deserve a tribute. Especially the woman who gave her life to helping the poor people the opportunity to advance themselves. Thanks Ann for posting these good people on the blog.

    May they rest in peace.

    Stephanie B.

  2. Crissy

    Late in commenting. So sorry to hear about, Dr. Robert Cade, the Gatorade creator. I have downed many a Gatorade over the years, and I owe it all to him for “quenching’ my thirst. Thanks for the memories.

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