Son of Evel Knievel Sues Disney in Las Vegas Court

Posted on: September 25, 2020, 01:13h. 

Last updated on: September 25, 2020, 02:28h.

The son of motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel is suing Disney over a “knock off” character in Toy Story 4. Evel Knievel shot to fame in a 1967 motorcycle jump at Caesars Palace hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

Evel Knievel
Motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel jumps the fountains at Caesars Palace in 1967. He crashed during the landing and was hospitalized in the incident. (Image: The New York Times)

Kelly Knievel claims in a federal trademark infringement lawsuit that the Duke Caboom character in the 2019 computer-animated movie is based upon his father, according to the Associated Press. The lawsuit against the Walt Disney Co. and Pixar was filed Sept. 22 in US District Court in Las Vegas.

During his career, Evel Knievel suffered injuries in several well-publicized crashes, including at Caesars Palace. In 2007, he died in Florida of lung disease at age 69.

Evel Knievel did not thrill millions around the world, break his bones, and spill his blood just so Disney could make a bunch of money,” Kelly Knievel said in a statement regarding the lawsuit.

Disney spokesman Jeffrey R. Epstein said the lawsuit’s claims are meritless, adding that the studio will defend itself vigorously, according to the AP.

Character Comparison

The lawsuit asserts people “universally caught on to the connection” between Evel Knievel and the Duke Caboom character, according to the AP. In the Toy Story series, toys come to life, taking on human characteristics. The character in question is voiced by actor Keanu Reeves.

The filmmakers said Reeves avoided making any comparison, “even if directly asked,” the AP reported.

Disney and Pixar did not seek permission to use the likeness, the lawsuit claims. Kelly Knievel is asking for more than $300,000 in damages, including for false endorsement and unjust enrichment, according to the AP.

Crash Landing

Before attempting the jump at Caesars Palace, Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel was not well known outside small venues in places such as his home state of Montana.

That changed on Dec. 31, 1967, when he went airborne in Las Vegas.

Riding a Triumph T-120 motorcycle, supposedly after downing a shot of Wild Turkey, the daredevil drove up an angled wooden ramp at about 90 mph and sailed over the Caesars Palace fountains, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

Knievel crash-landed, breaking several bones and receiving a concussion. Years later, stuntman Travis Pastrana jumped the fountains in tribute to Knievel, landing successfully.

Before the 1967 event, Knievel and Caesars Palace owner Jay Sarno agreed the daredevil would jump three times — on Dec. 31, Jan. 3, and Jan. 6. Knievel would be paid $4,500, according to the Sun.

The stunt at the resort on the Las Vegas Strip turned into a public relations bonanza. Footage of the crash aired on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, rocketing Knievel to fame. The event continues to crop up in popular culture and was highlighted in a 2017 music video by the Las Vegas band The Killers.

Caesars Palace also benefited. The resort had only opened a year earlier. After the failed jump, the property and its fountains became recognizable around the globe.

Leigh Montville, author of Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend, indicated a successful jump might not have received as much attention, the Sun reported.

“No one can say what would have happened if he had completed the jump, then completed the next two fountain jumps, but a pretty good guess is that the news would not have moved outside of Las Vegas,” Montville wrote.