SportsA Dark Conversation with Stuntman Eddie Braun, Who Is Jumping Across Snake River Canyon on a Rocket
He gives himself a 95 percent chance of making it. He says Vegas is giving him a 35 percent chance.
The man who is going to strap himself into a rocket at some point in the next couple of days and launch himself across the Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls, Idaho—recreating a failed jump by his hero Evil Knievel 42 years ago—says he's doing it all because of his four kids. It's a noble thought, but also, perhaps, foolish. (Terrifying?) So we called up longtime stuntman Eddie Braun on the verge of his epic, potentially fatal rocket launch and asked him: What are you trying to prove? What message from a dad to his four kids is worth dying for?
How does this launch work?
Well, it’s a bunch of technical crap, but at the end of the day, my right hand will be on a switch. I hit that switch, and if everything goes right, I’m going to go 0 to 430 mph in less than 3.9 seconds. And as I’m praying inwardly, I will hit a series of other levers and such, which will deploy the parachutes at the right time, which will slow me down, and bring me to a controlled crash. There’s still a crash at the end of this. It will just be a controlled one.
How do you even practice for this thing? There’s no real way to simulate it, right?
Exactly. It’s much like doing stunt work in the movies. I mean you can only prepare so much, and the bottom line comes down to, “Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.”
"Listen, if I pull this off, there will be 14 and a half minutes of quasi-celebrity whatever. And then, I’m so content to just fade into obscurity."
What’s the most daunting stunt you’ve done?
Um. Have kids?
How about on a movie set?
For me, personally, I’m scared of heights. I hate heights with a passion, yet I have to deal with them constantly.
For a guy who’s afraid of heights, I can’t imagine getting into a rocket and launching yourself across a canyon will be great.
It’s not going to be fun.
So why do it?
I figure this: I can tolerate just about anything for a couple of minutes. So I’ll be miserable. I’ll be scared to death. I’m scared of heights. I’ll be cramped in a little rocket. I mean it’s only going to be a couple of minutes, and then it’s over. One way or another.
People ask me, “What do you think about this?” Or, “What are people going to think about that?” And quite honestly, there’s only four people that I really care what they think, and those are my four children. Period. If my four children can see that their dad worked his ass off and fulfilled a dream that was nearly impossible, fulfilled a dream of his hero, it’s going to be kind of hard for my kids to ever say they can’t do something. This is a love letter to my four children.
I respect that and think that’s admirable, but I do have to point out—and I hope you don’t think I’m being flip—that this is based on a conditional: if you make it, that's all great. What if you don’t?
I’m still not ashamed of it. I’m not a stupid guy. There’s a good chance—it depends on who you talk to—there’s a good chance I’m going to go splat.
There’s a good chance—it depends on who you talk to—there’s a good chance I’m going to go splat.
If I’m playing Devil’s advocate here: you’re saying you’re out to finish what Evil Knievel started, but what he started was mainly just spectacle and showmanship, no? How do you respond to people who’d say that?
Easily. Very easily. You know how I respond? I’m not doing it for them. I told you. I’m doing for my four kids. Period. The end. Listen, I’ve read nasty things about me. When I publicly said, “Okay, I’m going to go for it,” I had the councilman from the city of Twin Falls [Idaho, where the jump will be held] say that he felt this was a junior varsity league attempt by a bunch of junior varsity league players. It hurt me when he said that. It didn’t get me mad, but it hurt me.
But the other byproduct of that? It inspired me. For three and a half years, I’ve had that play in my head over and over. Because although I can’t change his opinion, at the end of the day, should I succeed, he might think I’m junior varsity, and that’s okay. I don’t really care what he thinks, but to me, this third-string, no name, junior varsity quarterback will feel like he led his team into the super bowl and won it.
What do your four kids think of this?
Well, they’re nervous. We’re trying not to make a big deal of this. My eldest, she’s 19. Haley. Followed by my son Decklan. He’s 17. His dad is going to fly a rocket. How cool is that? I mean, he’s scared to death inside, I’m sure. We did talk a little bit before I left. He’s nervous.
What if he wanted to grow up to do this?
I couldn’t stop him. Why would I attempt to stop my children from chasing a dream? What kind of father would I be? I’d be as supportive as I could. Not to say I wouldn’t be scared to death and nervous or whatever, but if Deck had the experience that I have, if Deck had the training that I have, all of those things, I would be nervous, but I would be supportive.
Will your kids be there?
They’re at home. They’re not here. They’re not going to be with me on the launch day. They’re not going to be there. I’ll simply give them a quick call the minute—if I pull it off, I’ll give them a quick call and say, “Hey, it’s done. It’s over. You don’t have to worry about this one.” There’s no reason they need to be there. Let’s put it this way: If it goes bad, do you think I want the last image for my kids of seeing me splatter all over the canyon? No, that’s not an image I want to leave them. Plus, it’s what I do for a living. I go to work all the time, and I kiss them goodbye, and I come home in the evening. It’s one of those things.
What are the percent chances that you make it?
Depends on who you ask.
Well, what do you think?
Vegas has puts odds on this. I think the odds right now are 65 against versus 35 for. I don’t know. What do I personally think?
I personally think I’m not a foolish man. I’m not out trying to make a statement to anybody else. I’m not trying to make some sort of a publicity stunt. Obviously I think I can do it. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think I’d be successful.
So give me a number. How high above 50 are you?
I’m saying, barring some unusual, some unforeseen [mishap], I’d say 95 percent I’ve got this in the bag. I’m going to lead my team. This third-string, no-name quarterback is going to lead his team into the Super Bowl, and I think we’re going to win.
So how can Vegas put it at 65 percent?
They’re looking at it from [a] historical [perspective]. They’re looking at it from Evel Knievel and the debacle that turned out [to be]. I can’t worry about what other people think. In 42 years, no one has tried this. I’ve heard so many people [say], “Oh, I’m going to jump the canyon.” “I’m going to make millions off of this.” “I’m going to get famous off of this.” I’ve got nothing to prove to anybody. I’ve done big stunts. There’s a very good reason I’m a stuntman and not an actor. I don’t care to be famous. I really don’t.
What is the impetus then? Why do all this stuff?
Because of my kids. It will leave a lasting impact on four young lives. And if I do it correctly, my statement will outlast me.
Why did you originally get into stuntwork? Was that because of your kids too?
I met Evel Knievel as a child. When I met him, he put his arm around me, and he encouraged me, and the feeling becomes so fresh when I think about it. I left there in 7th Heaven. From that point on, I did not want to do anything else but be like Evel Knievel. My first injury was trying to jump my Schwinn Stingray over trashcans, and I broke my arm. It hurt like hell, but I couldn’t have been more proud. I got that cast on, I was like Evel Knievel.
When you get into that rocket, how will you be feeling?
There will be a familiarity in that feeling. It’s not a pleasant one. If I take away the emotion and the hoopla, it will be uncomfortable. It’s a very tight fit. It’s claustrophobic. It’s a lot of pressure. You’ve got to realize what you’re doing. I have a lot of things I have to do, and I have to get them right. I’ve never flown a rocket before. This is either going to be the first day of the rest of my life, or the first day of my eternity. And that is a heavy thing. But I don’t dwell on it. I acknowledge it. I mean I know in the back of my head, on that sunset, I may not see that sunset ever again.
That doesn’t keep you up at night?
No. Because, again, it’s a very introspective thing. I’m a religious guy. I fear my God. But I’m also ready. We’re all going to go. If I’m going to go on this one, I’m ready to meet my Maker as much as one could possibly be.
What does your wife think?
She’s ready for me to get it over with. But listen, my family is used to this. They’ve gotten the phone call, “Hey, your dad, he’s in the trauma unit. They’re about to operate on him, and he’ll be alive, but he’s got some problems.”
What’s the worst injury you’ve had?
in 1999 or 2000, I was working on a show called Walker, Texas Ranger with Chuck Norris, and it was a routine day doing something that I’ve done numerous times. It was a car jump. I was jumping a Suburban into a field. And I had a passenger with me in the car. Another stuntman. Well, we did the jump. The results were different than we anticipated and that we wanted. Unfortunately, it killed my passenger, and I broke my back severely in three places and my pelvis, and collapsed a lung and a few other things.
Did that make you hesitate to go back to work?
No, not at all. In fact, I couldn’t wait to go back to work. I tell my kids this. Because they see me doing stunts and they see all of that. I’ve been asked numerous times, “Am I scared?” Hell, yeah, I’m scared! That’s healthy.
I’ve heard so many people say, “I’d jump in that rocket.” And I think to myself, “Really? Would they? If they knew what it took to get there?” They’re only seeing the top layer. They’re seeing the package. They’re seeing the wrapper. They’re not really opening up the package to see what’s in there. Would they have the sleepless nights? Would they literally cry over the stress? Would they really do it? It’s been 42 years and no one has done it. A lot of people have said they’re going to do it. But I only see one guy climbing into a rocket this weekend, and that’s me.
I want it all documented. I want it all captured on film. If I’m smashed on the side of the canyon, okay, cover my puddle with something dignified, but film it. I made an impact, truly and figuratively.
So it sounds like it has kept you up at night.
Of course it has. The other thing people think of is, “Oh, you’re going to make millions on this. This is going to make you this and that.” If they really knew the truth that, as of us speaking right now, I have not made a dime on this thing. In fact, it has cost me personally. I put up all the money. I’m not a rich guy, and I’ve put up over 1.6 million dollars to make sure this happens. That is a lot of money, and in my case, it’s literally blood money. For 1.6 [million], I promise you’ I’ve bled, I’ve cried, I’ve been in pain. Obviously I’m not doing it for the money. If I pull this off, I’ll sleep very well. It may be on a park bench because I sold everything to do it, but I will sleep good at night knowing that I did something that I’m proud of and if I did it correctly, the way I’ve tried really hard to do, I’ll be proud of the statement I make to my kids.
Will this satisfy the itch, though? Will you be able to stop doing these things?
Well, what itch are you talking about? I don’t have an itch. [laughs] I mean I don’t understand. I’m not trying to do bigger and better stunts. In fact, a lot of people that said they were going to do this, these dare devils, I felt they wanted to do this to launch themselves into another whatever. To me, I’m doing it as my very silent sign off and goodnight. Listen, if I pull this off, there will be 14 and a half minutes of quasi-celebrity whatever. And then, I’m so content to just fade into obscurity. Maybe someday I’ll be a trivia question. I’m walking off the stage. I’m Joe Everyman. There’s nothing special about me. I might be that guy that’s behind you in line at Starbucks, and you know what? I’ll probably have a smile in my face. Inside I’ll feel really good. I did something I’m proud of.
Just seems like it’d be hard to go back to a life without adrenaline.
The rush now I get is seeing my son, a 17-year-old, saying he loves to hang out with his dad. The rush I get is having my daughters tell me how much they love me and how proud of me they are. I mean that’s the rush that matters. I don’t care about all the other stuff. I really don’t.
In the event this doesn’t go as planned, will we see the footage?
This whole three-and-a-half years, I’ve teamed up with this wonderful director, Kurt Mattila. I wanted it documented. Again, it’s a love letter to my kids through my actions. For three-and-a-half years, we’ve been filming every part of this thing. I vowed to [Kurt] I would give him an ending. After all this time and energy he’s put into this, I promised him I would give him an ending.
And what happens if it does go wrong?
[Stunt coordinator] Gary Davis knows my wishes. he’s been given certain instructions, and he agrees on what to do. He knows exactly what to do if it goes bad. Exactly what to do. But he also knows that I want it all documented. I want it all captured on film. If I’m smashed on the side of the canyon, okay, cover my puddle with something dignified, but film it. I made an impact, truly and figuratively.
The statement I make is equally as important as the actions that people see on the outside. In other words, if it were tragic, yeah, okay, that’s sad, but how tragic is it that I went after chasing something noble? How tragic is it that I went out doing as a stuntman the biggest stunt that one could dream of? As tragic as it is, it’s still kind of noble that you didn’t die because you were running form something that you were scared of. Look, I can’t help but always think of Todd Beamer. Do you know who that guy is?
Not off the top of my head.
He led the charge to takeover Flight 93 from the terrorists. They flew it into the ground. As tragic as what happened to him, what’s outlasted that physical act, what’s outlasted him, is the impact that he made. In the face of the fear, in the face of impossible outcomes, he rose to the occasion. He said, “Let’s roll.” And he went in and led the charge. The statement of what he did outlasted the physical. And it was very tragic. How proud are his kids and his family at that statement? Their dad was a hero in their eyes. I mean he faced insurmountable odds, he did it nobly. Right? And he left a legacy: Wow, there is one true American, doing something nearly impossible. In the face of fears, he rose to the occasion. That’s impactful. And he didn’t do it for money. He didn’t do it for fame.
The big difference is that he didn’t put himself in that situation, though.
Yeah, sure. It just presented itself. Okay, so how much more of a statement to my kids will I make for volunteering for these impossible odds?
But hold on, do you equate your situation with his? Because his was a selfless act.
No, no. Are you kidding me? No. His was much more noble. His was much more noble. I would never compare this to that. No way. What I’m doing is stupid, it’s surface-y stuff, on the surface. And it’s just as important to me how it’s done than what’s done.
I have to ask: is getting that message to your kids worth the price of you potentially not being there for them?
[pause] Yes. If I think of the bigger picture, yes. It is worth it. Because that’s what will stick with them. I don’t think it’ll be the case. I don’t think it’s gonna be a tragic ending. But again, not being a foolish man, you gotta think out every possibility. I asked and Gary gave me his solemn promise that if it goes bad and I’m just a puddle at the other edge of the canyon, I asked him [for] two things. I said, "Please cover the rocket or me. Just cover it. Cause I don’t want people to see the gore, but I do want them to see the image." The other thing I asked him is to please take my watch off of me if there’s something left. I want my son to have my watch. I’ve worn this watch through countless stunts. It’s a simple watch, too. It’s a Rolex, but it’s a plain, really basic one. But it means a lot to me. I’ve worn it through several stunts and I want my son to have it.
When I left home, it could be the last time I ever see my kids. I do a routine when I go to work. "Okay, I love you. I’ll see you soon. Blah blah blah." Right? There is one, uh, thing I shared with my son, though. I looked at my son, he’s 17 years old, so he’s in that awkward age. He’s a man, but a boy. And I looked at him and I said, "Deck, I need you to promise me one thing." He goes, "What, Dad, what?" I said, "You gotta promise me that if I don’t come back that you will walk each one of your sisters down the aisle when it’s time for them to get married. You must represent me. Promise me that." He goes, "Aw, dad, come on." I said, "No, seriously, Deck. Give me two seconds to hear something serious. You promise me you will walk each one of your sisters down the aisle if I don’t come back." And he looked at me, he says, "Yeah, dad, I will. Of course I will." I said, "OK, cool. But I’ll be coming back."