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Real Knievel: Rapper's rendition won't fly

The daredevil files a lawsuit claiming a Kanye West music video sullies his image.

Published December 12, 2006

[Times files]
Evel Knievel is known for this jumpsuit and stunts like this May 1974 jump in Cleveland.

Stuntman Evel Knievel

Rap artist Kanye West

TAMPA - In his Touch the Sky video, rap star Kanye West dons a white, star-spangled jumpsuit and tries to ride a rocket across a canyon.

Famed daredevil and Clearwater resident Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel says that's a little too close to his trademark-protected image and is taking West and his producers to court.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, accuses West of trademark infringement and unauthorized use of Knievel's image.

The suit goes on to say the video tarnished Knievel's image with its vulgar, sexual and racially charged content.

"The guy just disgraced me," said Knievel, 68, who said he hopes to halt showings of the video and win several million dollars.

"I have done the best I can to set an example for children, and then this guy comes along and tries to rip it apart," he said.

The suit names West, Roc-A-Fella Records and music video director Chris Milk as defendants.

West's publicist did not respond to a request for comment.

In the suit, Knievel is described as an "internationally famous motorcycle daredevil who has been a household name since the late 1960s." He registered his name as a trademark in 2001 and, according to the lawsuit, sales of toys and other products bearing his name have grossed more than $300-million.

The stunt star's white jumpsuit, featuring a V-shaped blue stripe emblazoned with white stars, is so closely associated with Knievel it is also protected by the trademark, the lawsuit said.

The Touch the Sky video features West dressed as a daredevil named "Evel Kanyevel." After cavorting with actor Pamela Anderson, he attempts to jump a canyon on a jet-powered vehicle.

Richard Fee, Knievel's attorney, said the video mimics his client's famous attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon in 1974.

"It's not just a three-second snippet," Fee said. "The whole video is about Kanye West portraying Evel Knievel. It's rather blatant and obvious."

But Knievel said he is most concerned with the video's sexually charged content, which he said hurts his reputation as a role model for children.

"In my opinion, this video maybe reflects West and his way of life, but it's sure not mine," Knievel said.

Knievel is asking for a court order prohibiting West from using his image. He is also demanding royalty payments and damages.

He said his health is failing. He had a stroke in September and doctors gave him only three years to live after he was diagnosed with an illness that hardens the lungs.

But Knievel said he was so angered by the video, he had to take action.

"I don't want my children or my grandchildren associated with this kind of thing," he said. "I want it stopped."

This is not the first time in recent years Knievel has filed suit over perceived damage to his public persona. In 2005, he and his wife, Krystal, sued ESPN for labeling him a "pimp" in a photo caption on the network's Web site. ESPN won the case.

Carrie Weimar can be reached at (813) 226-3416 or

[Last modified December 12, 2006, 00:50:56]

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