Montana mining town hosts funeral of local hero Evel Knievel

BUTTE, Mont. - Mourners began gathering Monday for the funeral of Evel Knievel, the motorcycle daredevil who helped put his hometown on the map with death-defying stunts and near-fatal crashes that made him an international icon.

Fireworks illuminated the night sky with bursts of Knievel's trademark red, white and blue on Sunday when a hearse carrying his body arrived at the Butte Civic Center, the town's largest indoor venue, for a public viewing.

'There's only a few people that you can say a name anywhere in the world and you know who he is,' said Jim Richards of Butte as he sat with his young son in the arena while mourners walked past the casket surrounded by poinsettias.

Large photos of Knievel rested on easels nearby, slides appeared on a large screen and a sound system blared a mix of country music and Frank Sinatra's 'My Way.'

'He never forgot his roots,' said Richards, 49, who grew up in Butte.

The viewing was followed later Monday by a service officiated by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller of California's Crystal Cathedral. Afterward, a funeral procession made its way through town along a six-mile loop known as Evel Knievel Way. The burial at Mountain View Cemetery was private.

Schuller baptized Knievel at his cathedral in April.

Pat Kearney, a spokesman for the Knievel family, said funeral speakers will include actor Matthew McConaughey, who hosted a History Channel program about Knievel in 2005. Former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier, a friend, was also expected to attend the service.

Knievel, who used to speed motorcycles over local mine dumps as a boy, died Nov. 30 in Clearwater, Fla., after suffering pulmonary fibrosis and diabetes for years. He made detailed plans for his funeral.

The annual Evel Knievel Days festival draws tens of thousands to the city. Knievel frequently attended the event, though as a frail man who'd lived through too many motorcycle crashes and other ordeals, including a liver transplant.