FOR CHILDREN OF the '60s and '70s, motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel perfectly embodied the bombastic naiveté of those pre-ironic times. Some identified with his lack of respect for authority. Many sympathized with his America-needs-saving routine. He once said, "America was down on its ass when I came along. They needed... someone who would spill blood and break bones and suffer brain concussions, someone that really hurt and that wasn't a phony.... I refused to lay down and die. I didn't quit, I always tried to get up. And America needed that worse than anything in the world."

Steve Mandich was born in 1969 and grew up within earshot of the Seattle International Raceway in suburban Kent. During his pre-teen years he became a Knievel fanatic, sending him fan mail and even trying out his own stunts using his sister's bike and homemade ramps. In junior high, Mandich talked his parents into buying him a Honda XR200, which he rode through nearby cow pastures with his friends, until one of them crashed and wound up a quadriplegic.

After high school, Mandich moved to Portland and began working at Kinko's, where he met people who turned him on to zine publishing. In 1994 he started Heinous, a thoroughly entertaining zine--bound with cassette tape--whose first issue featured an article on the band Girl Trouble, an essay on Kent, and an old postcard from O. J. Simpson. Not until the second issue, released on the 20th anniversary of Knievel's Snake River debacle, did Mandich begin focusing primarily on Knievel's doings. The issue got a great response, Mandich says. "People mailed me their own anecdotes and articles and pictures and stories of stupid stunts they did on their bicycles as kids, and Evel himself was still making news, beating up his then-girlfriend. So the subsequent issues featured Evel as sort of a recurring theme."

In the zine world, most people's efforts fade away with little fanfare. An exceptional few, though, connect with an enthusiastic audience. Heinous garnered high marks from alternative culture totems like Utne Reader and Factsheet Five. In 1998, it was even the focus of an article on ESPN's website. Heinous' avid readers include zine legends such as Dishwasher Pete, John Murder Is Fun Marr, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, and Doug Pathetic Life Holland. It isn't just the zine's subject matter that attracts these readers; it's also Mandich's smart and smirky prose style.

Because of Heinous, Mandich found himself in the odd position of being an "Evel expert." "A couple years ago, a BBC producer doing research for an Evel documentary read about Heinous online. The deal was for me to speak on their show as some kind of Evel pundit, but I was busy moving from Portland back to Seattle at the time." The BBC connection was useful, though, as the producer of the documentary put Mandich in touch with an editor at U.K. publishing house Macmillan. Mandich was paid to write Evel Incarnate: The Life and Legend of Evel Knievel, which was just released in England to good reviews.

With many of the Heinous articles re-written for the book, and numerous new updates on its subject, Evel Incarnate is a sometimes scathing, sometimes admiring look at the showman's haphazard life, as well as Kneivel's many heirs apparent. Mandich doesn't see Knievel, who now lives "on the road" after a successful liver transplant in early 1999, as simply a kitschy relic, but rather a classic American enigma. "It's amazing that this guy who's completely nuts became a national icon.... He still sees himself as an all-American patriot and family man and role model, never mind his incessant drinking and philandering and jail time."

Evidence of Knievel's current state of mind awaited Mandich recently when he received a message from "E. K." He relayed the details to me in a long e-mail message:

"Admittedly the book didn't portray Evel in the most flattering light, and after what happened to Sheldon Saltman (a former Evel associate who was beaten with a baseball bat after writing a tell-all book on the stuntman) 23 years ago, I felt nervous [about calling him back], but also giddy. I debated on whether to send him the book at all, but since I had interviewed many people close to him and sent them all complimentary copies in exchange for their help, I figured it'd be cowardly not to send Evel one too.... So I mailed a copy to one of his pals in Las Vegas who I heard he would be visiting, with no note or anything. Then I called him back on Halloween."

In his conversation with Mandich, Knievel was confrontational. "He asked if I was friends with Joe Eszterhas, the guy who wrote the scathing piece in Rolling Stone, and [who] later [wrote] Showgirls. I said no, I'd never spoken with him. 'I just had a liver transplant, and if my doctor ever tells me I have 30 days left to live, then so does Eszterhas. Him and one other guy.'

"'Who would that be?'

"'It's none of your fuckin' business, Steve Mandick!' (I didn't correct his pronunciation of my last name, though later I wish I had.) He said my book was three-quarters factual, and the rest was a 'horrible mistake,' which, coming from Evel, sounded almost like praise. He sarcastically wished me good luck with sales, and then he told me not to call him again."

The confrontation didn't upset Mandich too much--in fact, his own health has become his main concern. After completing the book, Mandich (who just turned 34) was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. "I just finished up six months of chemo-therapy, and I'll begin a five-week series of radiation treatments (in November). Everything's gone as well as my oncologist had hoped, and that's good." Mandich is also pursuing a degree in journalism at the UW, while mulling over new writing projects. The one he is most excited about is "a definitive history of Seattle baseball, from 1872 to the present."

I asked Mandich, not one to soapbox about his cancer, if the disease has changed him. "Oddly enough, I'm not nearly as anxiety-ridden as I used to be. Obviously there's no point in worrying about things you can't control, but not until this past year have I actually been able to live like that. I can't quite explain why, however, because my outlook could've easily gone in the opposite direction. Of course, I'm not completely free of all my hang-ups, but they don't dictate my life nearly as much as they used to, and once you get beyond that, life goes so much easier and becomes a lot more fun."

Evel Incarnate: The Life and Legend of Evel Knievel is available through Amazon.com's United Kingdom site at www.amazon.co.uk.

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