LOS ANGELES – Of all the bones Evel Knievel broke over the years, the costliest may have been the left arm of a PR man by the name of Shelly Saltman.
Saltman won $12.75 million in damages against Knievel after the motorcycle daredevil attacked him with a baseball bat in 1977 in a rage over a book Saltman had written about the showman.
With interest, the still-uncollected sum has grown to more than $100 million by Saltman's estimate, and he intends to try to collect it.
"We are going hot and heavy after his estate," Saltman told The Associated Press after Knievel died Friday at 69. "What he tried to do to me and how it hurt my family, I'm owed that."
Whether Knievel's estate has that kind of money is unclear.
Knievel's son Kelly would not discuss the size of his father's estate or comment on the dispute. The daredevil's longtime friend and promoter, Billy Rundle, declined to discuss the incident in detail. Knievel's widow, Krystal, was not granting interviews.
Although little remembered today, the incident made headlines worldwide when the death-defying motorcyclist approached Saltman in the parking lot of 20th Century Fox on Sept. 21, 1977, and suddenly started swinging a bat. Saltman, then a studio executive, raised his arm protect his head, a move he says doctors told him probably saved his life.
His arm was shattered and is held together to this day with a steel plate and screws.
Knievel, who broke nearly 40 of his own bones during his many motorcycle stunts, served six months in jail and would never again enjoy the public acclaim he had when he tried unsuccessfully to jump Idaho's Snake River Canyon on a jet-powered motorcycle in 1974 -- an event Saltman had promoted.
"I've always felt pity for him," said Saltman, 76. "Because of this foolish act, he ruined his career."
Knievel complained at the time that Saltman's book, "Evel Knievel on Tour," insulted his family and portrayed him as "an alcoholic, a pill addict, an anti-Semite and an immoral person."
Saltman compiled the book from tape-recorded interviews with Knievel and others, and maintains it was an accurate and affectionate, if unvarnished, account of Knievel's life.
"I wrote a book about a man who at the time I greatly admired," he said.
He and Knievel never spoke after the attack, Saltman said, though he said the showman approached him over the years through third parties, expressing remorse and offering to settle the judgment. Saltman said the offers were a "pittance" and he turned all of them down.
The Snake River jump might not even have been the most bizarre of Saltman's promotions. Saltman was also the man behind the scenes at Muhammad Ali's 1976 bout with Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki. The two fought to a draw, with Ali punching and Inoki kicking.
But for better or worse, Saltman knows his name will always be linked with Knievel's.
"My first thought was that I do hope the poor man is finally at peace," he said upon learning of Knievel's death.