Alex Harvill, not a prominent name in the sports world, died on Thursday morning in Moses Lake, Wash., crash-landing while attempting a daredevil jump aboard his motorcycle. The impact was gruesome. He died from his injuries, Grant County coroner Craig Morrison said in a statement.
Harvill, 28, landed back-wheel-first on his Suzuki 350, albeit some 3-5 feet short of his desired target atop a huge dirt mound, after soaring almost 350 feet through the air. He raced his bike off a ramp constructed at the Grant County International Airport, was sent flying, and met his end high on the dirt pile fashioned as a landing ramp.
“It’s almost like you’re a jockey on a horse,” he said only days before, describing the physical demands of his craft to the Columbia Basin Herald. “It takes everything to hold on.”
Everything isn’t always enough. Fate sometimes has a way of outdistancing form, no matter what the sport, no matter how strong or skilled the athlete.
The daredevil world doesn’t get much attention anymore, for whatever reason — possibly because the everyday reality of the sports and entertainment world often seems so bizarre that stunts fail to capture our imagination.
We live in a sports world of crazy, thankfully not always catastrophic, but full of calamity and shards of chaos. So maybe the make believe, or the outrageous, the staged spectacle, the death-defying feat … perhaps all of that has become just the same ol’, same ol’.
Harvill, who picked up work at a farm in central Washington to support his wife and two young sons, was to be the opening act for a three-day airshow. He began riding at age 4. His stunt riding was a side gig to make a few bucks and in itself not a means of making a living. It was his passion, not his purse.
On Thursday, Harvill was aiming to set a record, a flight through space of 351 feet from ramp to dirt, his attempt to edge out the mark set by Robbie Maddison in 2008. Ever hear of Maddison? Probably not. He’s an Aussie who will turn 40 next month, and he issued what sounded like sincere condolences via social media within hours after the mishap.
Maddison’s record, however obscure in an obscure sport, lives on, until someone breaks it, or someone is broken again attempting to do so. It’s a good bet we won’t hear if the mark is shattered. We’ll definitely know if the chase claims another life.
Harvill was born nearly a quarter-century after the king of stunt bikers, Robert “Evel” Knievel, who was by far the most acclaimed, and repeatedly most battered, of the sport.
Knievel, from Butte, Mont., came flying into America’s consciousness with his historic motorcycle jump at Caesars Palace on Dec. 1, 1967. Once the owner of the Butte Bombers, a minor league hockey team (reminder, it’s always about hockey), the then 29-year-old Knievel cajoled Caesar’s management into allowing him to attempt to fly his bike over the hotel’s iconic outdoor fountains at the edge of The Strip.
The jump was not broadcast on live TV, forcing the marketing-savvy Knievel to pay out of pocket to have it filmed. Budding actress Linda Evans, 24, was part of director John Derek’s filming crew, well before her “Dynasty” days.
The Caesar’s jump was a spectacular failure, but also ultimately a gargantuan branding moment that brought Knievel fame, fortune … and an ungodly number fractures, not only that day but in subsequent breathtaking failures. He made crash-landings and broken bones his personal tour de force and trademark.
Reports of the orthopedic fender bender outside Caesar’s varied, but Knievel was rendered a bone-and-sinew jigsaw puzzle, with fractures to his pelvis, ankles, wrists, hips and femur. Enticed by the carnage, ABC bought the tape, and Knievel’s name, up to the day he died of coronary-related disease in 2007, became synonymous with daredevil stunts.
Posthumously, he remains the sport’s king. No one, be it the brave and brainless who tumble over Niagara Falls in a barrel, or the tightrope-walking Flying Wallendas, ever made bank of pain and failure like Knievel.
In his early 20s, prior to his Caesars fame, Knievel spent time crafting his motorcycle and jump skills in Moses Lake, the same town where Harvill met his fate.
Amid the protracted daredevil craze triggered by Knievel, Bob Heywood came to Boston Garden with his rocketship on the night of Aug. 21, 1977. He failed, too, but with far less glory and no fame to reap.
An ex-doughnut-maker, Heywood borrowed from the 1930s Garden playbook and its short-lived indoor Winter Carnival extravaganzas. Ski jumpers in those affairs raced down a jump erected on the steep side of the balcony, their heads not far from the building’s ceiling as they stared down the track.
Heywood, seated inside his rocketship, planned to come storming down a similar slope and fly across the full expanse of the old building. No one ever had seen such a thing on Causeway Street. It would be amazing!
The results were as disappointing as the gate: 250 paid attendance.
Heywood’s rocket barely made it to the end of the slope, then toppled to floor. Few witnessed it, fewer cared to remember it, but at least no one was hurt.
“Anybody can jump a motorcycle,” Knievel once said. “The trouble begins when you try to land it.”
Harvill is survived by wife Jessica and their two boys, Willis and Watson, the latter of whom was born last month. A gofundme page to help Jessica and their sons as of Saturday morning had logged more than $75,000 in contributions.
Harvill began riding a motorized bike in preschool. He was a record holder in his chosen sport, a daredevil, a dreamer, cut from the Knievel mold.
“So awesome that I can follow in his footsteps … ,” Harvill told the Columbia Basin Herald just days before his attempted jump, “… just live on the motorcycle legacy of pushing the limits.”