Steve Mandich was born in Seattle in 1969 and grew up within earshot of the Seattle Raceway in suburban Kent. During his preteen years he became an Evel fanatic, even sending him fan mail.
In 1994, while living in Portland, he began publishing Heinous, a zine which primarily focused on the exploits of the Evel one.
Heinous garnered high marks from alternative culture totems like Utne Reader and Factsheet Five. It wasn't just the zine's subject matter that attracted these readers. It was also Mandich's smart and smirky prose style that made anything he wrote about seem interesting.
Mandich's work on the daredevil began to get noticed by others, including a BBC producer who was making a documentary about Knievel. After learning about Mandich, the producer connected the zinester with UK publishing house Macmillan. Mandich wrote Evel Incarnate: The Life and Legend of Evel Knievel, which was just published in England. With many of the Heinous articles rewritten, as well as numerous updates, Evel Incarnate is a sometimes scathing, sometimes admiring look at the showman's haphazard life.
Mandich doesn't see Evel, who now lives "on the road" after a recent liver transplant, 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 could've been killed each time he performed and yet viewed himself as some kind of hero, marketed with the toys and stuff. [Nowadays] he's had this sort of Pee Wee Herman/O.J. Simpson-like fall from grace. It's baffling, and kind of sad."
Evidence of Evel's current state of mind awaited Mandich recently when he got a phone call from "E.K." Knievel grilled Mandich on who the anonymous source was in the section about his paintings (which speculates that Knievel had a ghost painter). Mandich explained the concept of anonymity and said he didn't have any reason to doubt his source.
"I'll put up $500,000 in cash right now, and he can match it, and we'll get in a Butte courtroom with six judges and I'll show him I can paint," said Knievel.
"If I catch that guy, I'll break his fuckin' neck!" Knievel yelled, and later added, "I'll tear his fuckin' head off!"
He asked Mandich if he was friends with Joe Eszterhas, the guy who once wrote a scathing Evel piece in Rolling Stone, and later, the movie flop Showgirls. Mandich said he'd never spoken with him. Evel commented, "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?" Mandich asked.
"It's none of your fuckin' business, Steve Mandick!" Knievel snapped back.
That confrontation didn't upset Mandich too much however. In fact, his own health has become his main concern. After finishing the book, Mandich (who's just turned 34) faced a medical scare. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and has been undergoing treatments. "Everything's gone as well as my oncologist had hoped, and that's good," says Mandich, who's currently closing in on a journalism degree at the University of Washington.
He's also mulling over new writing projects: "I just wrote a piece for a bubblegum book about the Beagles, a cartoon rock band from the '60s. I have some other ideas too, like a definitive history of Seattle baseball."
I asked Mandich, not one to soapbox about his cancer, if there were any particular ways that the disease has changed him, besides becoming a skinhead for a while.
"Oddly enough, I'm not nearly as anxiety-ridden as I used to be. 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."