Johnny Knoxville at 50: ‘I know what I signed up for. I wrote the stunts’

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Johnny Knoxville is 50 years old. Does that surprise you? He’s 50 years old, with a full head of grey-white hair, and he’s promoting the fourth and final Jackass movie. The Jackass franchise was an unlikely one, but it’s a franchise which made Knoxville and the stars rich. Knoxville seems like the only one out of his crew to be a truly functioning member of society though – he’s happily married, with two children at home and an adult daughter living in Texas. He has a pool. He worries about his kids’ safety and he worries about concussions and broken bones. GQ did a somewhat lovely profile of Knoxville to promote the film and he spoke at length about his 30-year-plus Jackass adventure. You can read the full piece here. Some highlights:

He’s still standing, but just barely: “You can only take so many chances before something irreversible happens. I feel like I’ve been extremely lucky to take the chances I’ve taken and still be walking around. I know what I signed up for. I wrote the stunts.”

He had dyed his hair brown for nearly 20 years: He kept up a faithful coloring regimen that lasted until the pandemic hit. When Knoxville asked his wife to give his hair a buzz, he wasn’t entirely surprised by what it revealed. “I knew that I was gray under there. But I didn’t know how gray.”

His body feels okay: “All things considered, I walked into this interview on my own and I’m eating like a big boy. I’m pretty happy.”

Stuntmen and long-term plans: “Half-ass stuntmen don’t really think long-term,” he said. Shattered bones, dented teeth, trashed ankles, and a litany of other medical setbacks were tolerated. In some way, they were sort of the point—trophies amassed in the pursuit of great footage. Knoxville’s longtime colleague Steve-O mentioned to me that he once heard that Knoxville “was struggling to make left turns in a car” after taking a bad fall during a skateboard stunt. In fact, Knoxville told me, this particular aftereffect traces back to the filming of the first Jackass movie, in 2002, when he was knocked out by the nearly 400-pound boxer Butterbean. “I got vertigo after that, along with the concussion. So when I’d drive around corners, I would just start to get the spins. No [I didn’t stop driving], I just drove slower. They gave me some medication to correct it eventually.”

He never thought he would do a fourth Jackass film: “I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel the need or the desire. It’s a real emotional thing.” There were physical concerns too. “I can’t afford to have any more concussions. I can’t put my family through that.”

When MTV’s Jackass became an overnight success: “It all happened so fast—I don’t know how. We were on the air, and ratings exploded, and I’m on the cover of Rolling Stone. It just happened in an instant.”

His second marriage: His first marriage ended. A new relationship with an old friend straightened him out. “I realized that I can’t live like I was and be with Naomi. I wanted to become a better man for her. At first. Then it was for myself too.” He started seeing a therapist.

Going to therapy: He told her he wasn’t interested in exploring the part of him that wanted to do stunts. “I know that needs looking at. But I didn’t want to break the machine.” It wasn’t just about jeopardizing his livelihood, he explained. Doing stunts “was exciting. It’s something that I did with my friends. And I was decent at it.” It wasn’t so much about the stunts themselves, which were terrifying, as about how completing them made him feel. He loved, he said, “the exhilaration and relief, once you get on the other side of the stunt. Or when you come to. You wake up, you’re like, ‘Oh, was that good?’ And they’re like, ‘That was great.’ You got a good bit when there’s seven people standing over you, snapping their fingers.” When we spoke, he still hadn’t broached the topic in therapy. “I’ll talk about it eventually. It’s not something I need to know this second.”

[From GQ]

Towards the end of the profile, Knoxville speaks softly about the issues the other guys have had post-fame. Steve-O battled drug addiction, Bam Margera has battled addictions off-and-on for years. Ryan Dunn died in 2011 in a drunk-driving accident. Steve-O seems to have gotten his life together, but Bam has not. Knoxville talks in general terms about how “I think each of us was responsible for his own actions. And when someone’s struggling, everyone tries to help that person. And at the end of the day, that person has to want help. Sometimes they don’t. Yet.” Days after he said that to GQ, he fired Bam from Jackass 4 because Knoxville tried to contractually force him into rehab and Bam refused.

Throughout the piece, it’s clear that Knoxville never intended to become this half-assed stunt man, and I enjoyed reading the quotes from other people about why he was so good at it – because he had real reactions, he isn’t a natural athlete, and he couldn’t take a fall gracefully, which made it “funnier” somehow. Anyway, Jackass 4 apparently has footage of a bull knocking Johnny unconscious and giving him a brain hemorrhage. All for the footage.

— GQ Magazine (@GQMagazine) May 25, 2021

Photos courtesy of GQ.

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