That’s just what veteran Hollywood stuntman Eddie Braun did successfully recently, realising a childhood dream to complete the stunt that eluded Evel Knievel in 1974. The late daredevil’s parachute malfunctioned and deployed on take-off, rendering his attempt a failure and only money - and maybe sense - prevented Knievel from attempting the jump a fourth time (the first two were un-piloted steam rockets). But after meeting Knievel around that same time, a young Braun decided then and there he wanted to be a stuntman when he grew up.
And after 30 years as a sought-after professional stuntman and stunt coordinator for hundreds of Hollywood’s biggest TV shows and blockbusters from Lethal Weapon to Rush Hour, Entourage to Tom Hanks’ Sully and everything in between, Braun decided to put his money where his mouth was. A whopping $1.6 million of it to pay tribute to his hero by proving that the jump, using the original specifications and blueprints, was possible. That it wasn’t a failure on Knievel’s part but a technical malfunction. We caught up with Braun to find out why the hell he did it and why he knocked back millions of dollars in sponsorship to do things on his terms.
THE RED BULLETIN: First things first, congratulations! But why?
EDDIE BRAUN: I’ve got 30-plus years as a stunt coordinator and stuntman in Hollywood. All those years, I’ve done every stunt I can think of. I’ve got nothing to prove. My career stands on its own and I’m proud of it. But I’m fading out as a stuntman (not as a stunt coordinator) and what better way to farewell that part of my life than by fulfilling the dream of my hero? And I did this mainly for my four kids. I didn’t care what anybody else thought. I didn’t go to college. I’m not formally educated. I’m a bit of a schmuck. I worked really hard. Worked my ass off. I wanted to leave a mark, an example of what can be achieved through hard work. I wanted to leave a love letter to my children, through action instead of words, that if you work really hard you just might be able to fulfill the dreams of your hero.
It was a chance meeting with Evel as a kid that inspired your 37-year career as a film stuntman…
I met him as a child, and he was so warm and kind to me. I didn’t want to be anything else but a stuntman. Evel Knievel was a God; he was Elvis and Liberace all in one. Man, the guy wore a cape! He was a super hero incarnate. Weeks after meeting him I broke my arm trying to jump my Schwinn Stingray over a trash can. It hurt but I thought I was so cool.
Some say you did what Evel couldn’t. But you take exception to that…
I bristle every time I hear someone say I did what Evel couldn’t. That’s not true. This is definitive proof that Evel Knievel could have and should have made that jump were it not for malfunction. Everything; fit, form and finish, was the same. Ramp, same degree angle. Same pressure. Pretty much the same all over. We wanted to keep it pretty much the same. We looked at it as his jump being a test jump for mine - even if it was 42 years later, to the month. If we replicated all the conditions and specifications, we wouldn’t need to do a test. It was his project. I just finished it.
You want the jump to be remembered not just as your success, but Evel and his team’s, too?
I’m simply the child he inspired to finish out his dream. We’re on the same team. I was the relief pitcher. I’m a professional stuntman. And there’s a difference. I’m the face you never see. I’m a technician. I’m not a flashy guy. I’m a boring guy. There’s a reason I’m a stuntman and not an actor. I just do my job quietly. Whereas a daredevil, it’s all about them. It’s their show. And that’s great. They put on great shows. And that’s why my rocket was called the “Evel Spirit” and not the “Eddie Braun”. It’s not about me. I’m not looking to use this to propel me to stardom. This is my mic drop and I’ll quietly walk off the stage.
You turned down millions in sponsorship to do the jump on your terms at a personal cost of $1.6 million …
Evel Knievel said “you gotta be willing to jump that canyon for nothing before you’re willing to do it for anything.” Meaning, you can’t be doing it for fortune or fame. It’s for the achievement alone.
I saw so many people saying they wanted to do the jump and would be rich and famous, and I always said - you better want to jump it for a lot more than that. Plus, when you take people’s money, you have to take their conditions. Then it would become something I didn’t want it to become. My money. My rocket. My rules.
You rejected $2 million from someone willing to sponsor just the parachute. That must have been a tough decision…
There were plenty of sleepless night over those decisions. That’s a lot of money. But I thought that if I did this thing and did it properly with my one shot, I wanted an American flag as my parachute. Not a logo. That was a statement - a $2 million statement.
There are a couple of stickers on the rocket. Slash for one. We understand he’s part of the documentary?
Slash, from Guns ’n’ Roses, is a buddy of mine who loves Evel Knievel. There was no money exchanged. He re-recorded a song for me (“Rocket Man”) for the documentary because he thought the project was cool. It was pure passion. So that’s why I put his logo on the rocket. Also, you see the Coppola name on there. Again, no commerce. I wasn’t paid a dime for that. Francis Ford and Roman, who’s a buddy of mine, have supported me for a long time.
So far as the documentary goes, you filmed an alternate ending in case you didn’t survive…
That’s how I hope to recoup some of what I spent. That’s the only prayer I have of making any money back. Over this whole three and a half years we’ve been filming a documentary, which should be released early next year. The good thing about going out of pocket is that I own all the images and all the footage. Evel sold the rights to his attempts to ABC and networks like that, which meant he didn’t end up owning a lot of his footage. I own all the images and it’s all being cut together, with the final piece being the successful attempt. Yes, we actually did film that alternate ending a week ago just in case things had been disastrous - if the jump killed me and splattered me. Fortunately, we won’t have to use it!