Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bud Ekins 1930-2007

Normally, I would post this at Fixer & Gordon, but this is personal. This was a man I want everyone to know about.


Bud Ekins, a pioneering champion off-road motorcyclist and a veteran stuntman who doubled for Steve McQueen on the famous motorcycle jump in "The Great Escape," has died. He was 77.

A 1999 inductee of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Ekins was one of the first Americans to compete in the World Championship Motocross Grand Prix circuit in Europe during the 1950s. And by the mid-'50s, he was the top scrambles and desert rider in Southern California and had been district champion seven times.

His friendship with fellow motorcyclist McQueen, whom he helped teach off-road racing, launched Ekins' career as a movie stuntman.

Over the years, he amassed numerous stunt credits including the TV series "ChiPs" and films such as "Diamonds Are Forever," "Earthquake," "The Towering Inferno," "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers."

But Ekins' most famous stunt work was on his first job: doubling for McQueen in the climactic motorcycle jump over a high, barbed-wire fence in the 1963 World War II prisoner-of-war movie "The Great Escape."

"Steve could have done it himself," said Bob Hoy, a stuntman friend of Ekins. "He did the lead-up to it and rode the bike wherever he was running in that escape, but Bud did the jump. It was a tough jump. You only can do that kind of thing once; you either make it or you don't make it."

In the 1968 crime drama "Bullitt," Ekins also did stunt work for McQueen when his detective character drives his green Mustang in a high-speed chase with the bad guys in a black Charger over the hills of San Francisco.

But that wasn't all Ekins did on the hit film.

"One of the great things Bud did in the picture, he laid a motorcycle down on the blacktop during [the chase]. It was a hell of a shot," Hoy recalled. "Anything mechanical -- cars, motorcycles -- Bud was a perfectionist doing stunts. He could blueprint an accident and make it look real."

But, Hoy added, "Bud was an all-around stunt man. He could do fistfights and hold his own, he could say a couple of lines as a heavy and do a fall and what have you.

To hear Bud tell it, a collection of his bloopers would be a real treat.

Recalling her father's motorcycle shop, Susan Ekins said, "It was a hangout. My dad taught Warren Beatty how to ride; he taught everybody how to ride motorcycles."

Producer Jerry Weintraub, who knew Ekins for 30 years and described him as "a man's man," agreed.

"He taught most of the movie stars in this town how to ride motorcycles," Weintraub said. "If somebody wanted to buy a great motorcycle . . . they'd go to Bud Ekins. He was an icon."

Bud gave me my first job in the motorcycle industry. It was the best job I ever had, and the least money. We were not close personal friends, but he treated me good and we got along fine.

Through him, I met a lot of show biz folks, was in a movie, and got to go on all sorts of side trips running various kinds of errands in support of his activities. He was a real character with a terrific sense of humor, and I had a ball working for him. I've got an awful lot of funny stories about those days. I can't tell very many of them here on the one-in-a-million chance his wife might read this! Heh.

Bud was more than an employer. To all of us aspiring desert racers of the era, he was a hero and an icon in Southern California desert racing circles. The guy could flat fuckin' ride a 650 Triumph desert sled.

I shed a tear today. Godspeed, Bud.

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