There is something thrilling and even enchanting about watching a human risk his or her life that draws a crowd of people who are willing to fork over money to witness such stunts take place. While no sane or well-adjusted individual desires to see the demise of another person, just the idea that something could go terribly wrong makes these types of events must-see television that become instant sensations on social media websites such as Twitter whenever they occur. Heck, part of what makes NASCAR races so intriguing for so many fans is that element of danger that occurs whenever drivers get into their cars.
So why on earth would any reasonable person stare serious injuries or even death right in the face? The answer is not difficult to understand: Doing so can make people very rich. Entire brands have been created by celebrities and athletes risking their lives in front of in-person onlookers and television viewers who cannot get enough of witnessing these types of activities. Tragedy does sometimes strike, however, and it can even down a man who was thought by too many fans and people in his line of work to be an invincible figure and perhaps the greatest overall performer in the history of the sport.
15 Tony Hawk
It is likely that Tony Hawk would not consider himself to be a daredevil who risked his life to become rich. Here is what you have to remember about the glory days of Hawk pulling off tricks such as his famous “900.” The only thing standing in the way of Hawk splatting on the hard ground if something with the stunt went against his plan was a helmet and a skateboard. Hawk probably does not get enough credit for routinely putting his body at risk even though he more often than not was in complete control while having a skateboarding career for the ages.
14 Siegfried & Roy
There is one slight worry when attempting to perform shows with animals such as lions and tigers: Those beasts do not know that they are in on an act, and they do not always cooperate. Roy Horn found that out in a painful way back in 2003 when he was nearly killed during a show after he was mauled by a tiger on stage. Roy would eventually make a full recovery from that incident, and the life of the tiger was spared. That tiger would live up through the spring of 2014, when it passed away from natural causes. Roy never blamed the tiger for the attack, quite the noble act considering what could have occurred on that fateful night.
13 Rake Yohn
Rake Yohn was a cult hero of the old Camp Kill Yourself Crew known for his long and wild hair and also for his numerous appearances on television programs such as Jackass and Viva La Bam. Yohn likely could have made a healthy living without ever having to experience even an ounce of discomfort while working with those crews, however, as he has a degree from chemistry that he earned at the Pennsylvania State University. Yohn was one of the many former members of the CKY gang who appeared in the “Greatest Hits” program that aired in 2014.
12 Bam Margera
There was once a time when Bam Margera seemed to be the next big entertainment star to emerge from the original Jackass crew. His Viva La Bam program was a hit among viewers, and Bam's Unholy Union seemed to show that Margera was ready to take the next step into stardom, perhaps even following the career of Johnny Knoxville. Margera has been involved in many projects, some that he wrote and produced, but he has also become known for being involved in some ugly incidents. A random piece of information on Margera: He is apparently banned from the country of New Zealand.
Some things never change, and that has, in ways, been the case regarding Steve-O. The stunt performer who remains a beloved favorite from the Jackass gang made headlines in July 2015 when he had some fun with fireworks during a moment that should not be reproduced by anybody, anywhere, anytime. While Steve-O is still seemingly putting his body at risk, the hope is that he has gotten his life together following the Steve-O: Demise and Rise MTV documentary that led to the stuntman checking into rehab. Steve-O is, among other endeavors, performing stand-up shows at colleges these days.
10 Johnny Knoxville
The days of Johnny Knoxville only being known as a “Jackass” are in the past, as he has made appearances in many movies and television shows since the original version of the Jackass program aired on MTV. Coyote Ugly. Men in Black II. The Dukes of Hazard. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Bad Grandpa. These are just some of the projects that have included Knoxville since he first became known to American television audiences because of the stunts that he and his friends would attempt during Jackass programs. Who could have guessed, at the time, that Knoxville would become a movie star?
9 Jackie Chan
Years before he was a star in the eyes of American moviegoers thanks to blockbuster hits such as Rush Hour, Jackie Chan was an actor who was well-known and well-respected for his ability to complete stunts and also for the fight scenes that were featured in those films. Chan is now a superstar who no longer has any need to put himself at risk. Those of you who are unfamiliar with his earlier work can take to websites such as YouTube to see the types of risky moments that Chan pulled off years before he was a star and not just a stuntman.
8 Felix Baumgartner
There are certain stunts that, as risky as they may be to attempt, do not attract attention as they once did. How many times, after all, do you really need to see some guy on a motorcycle perform a jump over parked buses before that act loses its luster? Felix Baumagartner, along with Red Bull, found a way to make a skydive into a worldwide phenomenon when he completed what was referred to as the “Edge of Space” jump. Here is a question for you non-daredevils: Is there an amount of money out there worth you taking a leap from space – as in outer space??
7 Steve Irwin
6 David Blaine
Say what you will about the stunts that have been pulled off by illusionist David Blaine over the years. They have, assuming that Blaine has been honest about those attempts to shock audiences, come with serious risks and also noticeable physical strain on his body. Blaine claimed following his “Frozen in Time” stunt that it took about a month for him to be able to walk again. Fame and fortune are great things to pursue, of course, but perhaps Blaine would, in the future, be wise to remember the amount of money that he has in the bank before he puts everything on the line for a stunt.
5 Ryan Dunn
The tragic nature of the story of Ryan Dunn is that he was, for the most part, finished with putting his body and life at risk as he did during his days as part of the Jackass and Viva La Bam crews. Dunn had branched out on his own, co-hosting the television program G4 up through his final days when he and friend Zachary Hartwell passed away in a horrific car accident in 2011. It was later learned that Dunn, who was operating the vehicle at time of the accident, was drunk and also speeding. A man who could have possibly become a star on his own was instead lost far too soon.
4 Dale Earnhardt
One could argue that any NASCAR driver could be mentioned in this piece. Dale Earnhardt was not your typical driver. Known as “The Intimidator” because of his aggressive style of driving during races, Earnhardt was a legend of the sport who became the face of NASCAR. That you still see fans sporting No. 3 gear 14 years after Earnhardt tragically passed away at the 2001 edition of the Daytona 500 speaks to the popularity that he still has among those who watch races on a weekly basis. NASCAR has never had a star quite like Earnhardt, and the organization may never land a true replacement as it pertains to branding and marketing.
3 Nik Wallenda
Nikolas Wallenda comes from a long line of performers known as the Flying Wallendas. The seventh-generation member of that family is most known for the high-wire treks that he has made without the use of a safety net. Those journeys include a trip across Niagara Falls that was shown on television, one that made Wallenda an international sensation for some time. Wallenda, who is open about his strong Christian beliefs, has also authored a book, but all indications are that he is not done taking risks yet. It has been reported that Wallenda makes around $500,000 per stunt.
2 Robbie Knievel
The son of the man who helped forge the first-name of American daredevils began following in the footsteps of his famous father from a young age, and Robbie Knievel even went on tour with his dad for some time. Knievel has also made money in other business ventures, including the Knievel's Wild Ride television show and a video game of that same name. The man who has completed hundreds of daredevil jumps during his career made rather unfortunate headlines in the spring of 2015 when he was charged with felony DUI, not the first time that Knievel had been linked with such an offense.
1 Evel Knievel
Many men and women have, over time, risked their lives in attempts to create thrills and also generate large amounts of wealth. None were a bigger international icon than Evel Knievel. Knievel set records with his death-defying feats and with the injuries that he sustained during a career of risking his life, and he also became rich in the process. Heavy amounts of spending coupled with poor life decisions cost Knievel his wealth, and he was in rough shape when he passed away at the age of 69 years old. The Knievel name remains synonymous with the types of stunts that are featured on international television programs to this day.