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Daredevil Debbie Lawler: The Flying Angel

The Flying Angel Debbie Lawler

“The crowd expects to see a 300-pound tattooed lady with chains hanging down her back. They don’t expect me.” Debbie Lawler was five feet, two inches tall and just over a hundred pounds astride her 2-stroke Suzuki TM250.

In the early seventies she was a daredevilling 20-something seeking a more profitable, less-boring profession than modeling. Though she was often called the “female Evel Knievel,” her demeanor was the antithesis of the hot-tempered king of motorcycling daredevils. She was a sweetheart and respectful, even when besting Evel’s indoor record in 1974 by jumping 16 trucks (or “cars” as Guinness Book of World Records would record it). When Jim McKay, host of Wide World of Sports, asked Evel what he thought about her jump, he said, “I can spit farther than she can jump.” The very next month, he invited Debbie to his next jump at the Portland Memorial Coliseum where he reclaimed the record. Her thoughts? “It was a beautiful jump, just beautiful.” All the more reason to refer to her as the Flying Angel, which by then had become a household name. Even the makers of the Easy-Bake Oven (Kenner) produced a toy made in her likeness. I wonder how many Debbie Lawler Daredevil Jump Sets were sold?

Though she landed many successful jumps, with some credit to her lucky orange bra (never jumped without it), she fell victim to an uncooperative Mother Nature in the Spring of ’74 at Ontario Motor Speedway. The plan was to span 104 feet, but a gusting tailwind sent her over 145 feet, landing far down the landing ramp. She slumped over the bars, rolled off the bike, and slid into a concrete wall, busting three vertebrae. She recovered well, but never jumped again. Still smiling to this day, she maintains much respect in the realm of death-defying stunts.

When watching footage of her record-breaking jump at the Houston Astrodome, I wasn’t as awestruck with her smooth, ramp-to-ramp flight as I was with the approach and exit. At speed, she rips through the parking lot and into a tunnel, getting air and landing on a darkened, elevated runway. Once inside the dome, she nails the jump while standing on the pegs, barely off the seat. After the li’l Suzuki fully compresses on the landing ramp, she instinctively lowers her head to the side and shoots through a narrow, low-clearance opening. One wobble coulda spelled complete disaster before shooting through the small tunnel.

After Evel took back the indoor record in ’74, a jump that was just one vehicle’s width longer, he presented Debbie with a pink mink coat. In the BBC documentary, Richard Hammond Meets Evel Knievel, she revealed that the coat had a message sewn inside. It read, “Happy Landings. Love, Evel.” Perhaps proof that she commanded respect from everyone, even those she stole the limelight from.

(Have a look at our infographic; click it for a larger view.)

People Magazine

Steve Mandich | The Debbie Lawler Story

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Althought I’ve only met her one time,she left a impression of class and very beautiful lady to boot,she has taken time for me through the years and I would everyone to know that Evel & Robbie Knievel were and are our King of Daredevils and Debbie Lawler was and is The Queen of Daredevils Janet Lee,Fiona Beale,Rena Hart and others were every bit as good but Debbie is the Flying Angel……Much Love to all Have a “Wheelie” Good Day……..Risky Rick

  2. I met Debbie through a close personnel friend of hers in 2006. What a joy it was to meet such a lovely and wonderful person. It was at her Phoenix home (a mobile home) in a small mobile home park where she lived alone. She told many stories of her past jumping experiences and that was so very exciting to me. She showed me the video of her crash and I could see in her eyes that it was very touching for her to watch again. Debbie is a light hearted lovely woman with a heart of gold and I wish her the very best in life. Thank you Debbie for the time we spent together.

  3. Hey Debbie, if you get this message, I just wondered what my childhood friend was up to these days. I just turned 60 in april and im doin a lot of reminiscing
    lately. if you remember me send me a reply at my email. maybe you remember us fooling my dad by wearing beatle wigs???

    1. Hay Karen, I just saw this how are you!!!!!!! Yes I remember you. please email or Facebook me under Karen shearer. I would love to hear from you.

  4. Debbie,

    I believe I saw you on one of my flights in 2010 – you inspired my sister and I to push ourselves — we’re both pilots today :). She had your toy Debbie Lawler motorcycle toy and I had the Evel Knievel version — What fun imagining we were in your shoes for those jumps! I hope my 3 daughters will be inspirational and brave like you.

    God Bless and God Speed……Mark

  5. Hi Debbie,
    I hope this finds you happy and healthy. I have nothing but
    fond memories of our friendship growing up in Medford. You
    were the sweetest gal ever. Stay well and out of harms way. I
    am so glad your injuries were not more serious. Would love to
    hear where you are and how you are.
    Love to you,

  6. Hey,Debbie !!!Mr.Stephen Noe..remember the Coke Cola guy…Hope your doing well….Im still in AZ..

  7. Hello Debbie,

    I’m a big Evel Knievel fan. I was born in 1962 and saw the first movie at about age 10. There is not a day that. goes by that I don’t think of Evel Knievel. Recently; I started studying other jumpers on the internet. The more I read about you, the more I am amazed at the human being that you are. I know that your career success as a motorcycle jumper is a huge sign of bravery and courage. I feel blessed to have learned about you and your accomplishments, but I’m blown away with the class and character of how you go about business and present yourself. You are a true Angel, on earth and air. May God bless you forever.

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