Friday, October 12, 2007

Bud Ekins R.I.P.

Off road motorcyclist and legendary stuntman Bud Ekins died on October 6 at the age 77. He is perhaps best known for doubling for Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.

Ekins was born in Hollywood, California on May 11, 1930. It was in the late Forties that Ekins started motorcross racing in the deserts and mountains of Southern California. He was one of the early pioneers of the sport. He raced in the Catalina Grand Prix, a 100 mile race, no less than seven times. He won the Big Bear Hare and Hound Race, an endurance run across the Mojave Desert, no less than three times. He would later organise the American motorcross team for the International Six-Day Trials in Germany. He would win four Gold Medals and one silver in that competition during the Sixties. In 1962 he became the first man to travel the whole length of Baja California on a motorcycle.

Ekins also operated a Triumph dealership,and it was through his dealership that he became friends with movie star Steve McQueen. McQueen had come into the dealership and asked for motorcross lessons and the two soon became friends. It was also through McQueen that Ekins became a stunt man. The first film on which he worked was The Great Escape. Although it is McQueen on the Triumph motorcycle in most of the film, it is Ekins, doubling for McQueen, who executed the famous 65 foot jump over a barbed wire fence. Ekins would also double for McQueen in what may be the second most famous action scene involving one of McQueen's characters. It was Ekins who drove the Dodge Charger in the famous, 10 minute long car chase in Bullitt. Ekins would perform stunts for several films, including the Elvis Presley vehicle Speedway, the Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever, The Towering Inferno, Animal House, and The Blues Brothers. He also served as the stunt double for actor Michael Parks on the TV series Then Came Bronson. Close friends with Steve McQueen, Ekins also participated in documentaries and retrospectives on the actor.

There can be little doubt that Bud Ekins was one of the greatest stuntmen of all time. Indeed, the jump on the Triumph over the barbed wire fence in The Great Escape and the car chase in Bullitt are two of the most famous movie stunts in the history of cinema. Ekins was also a pioneer in the sport of off road motorcycle racing. If not Ekins and the other men who raced in the remote, often dangerous regions of Southern California in the late Forties, we might not have motorcross racing as we know it today. As either a stuntman or a motorcross racer, Ekins will not be forgotten.

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