Operation Jackass: Johnny Knoxville shares his wildest career injuries
Jackass Forever (2021 movie)
Johnny Knoxville knows he's lucky to be alive right now.
After 20 years of risking life and limb through his high-flying, safety-defying stunts on Jackass — first on the 2000 TV series and then in numerous films and TV specials in the decades since — Knoxville has put his body through so much trauma that doctors tell him "it's like it's been in a major car crash." That's why Jackass Forever (in theaters Feb. 4) is the end of the road for him ... at least when it comes to life-threatening stunts, that is.
"I knew heading into this, this was my last hurrah with big stunts," Knoxville, 50, tells EW. "You can only take so many chances before one forever catches up with you. I realized that and it's amazing that I'm still walking around. I think I pushed my luck far enough."
While filming Jackass Forever, Knoxville ended up with some of the most serious injuries of his career that landed him in the hospital and ultimately forced him to stop filming sooner than he wanted. But he's not bitter about how it all turned out. "I deserve whatever pain I am in; I have a very complicated relationship with pain and injuries," he says. "And honestly, I feel pretty good. Especially after all the things that I've done to myself and that I've let be done to me, I have no complaints."
Throughout all his projects, Knoxville has racked up so many injuries his medical history chart reads more like comedic fiction than actual reality — which he loves. "You do silly things, you get silly injuries," he says with his signature laugh. "But I can no longer do stunts that risk my life or — well, actually I don't care about my limbs, I can still do stunts that risk my limbs."
Just don't ask him about all the hospital bills. "I have so many doctors in my phone," Knoxville says with another laugh. "I have to go for a tune up with one doctor or another at least once a month now."
Here, Knoxville takes EW through his wildest career injuries, Operation-style.
1. 16 (maybe 17 — he's not exactly sure) concussions
One concussion can be debilitating. Yet Knoxville has lost count of how many he's had. He thinks his concussion count is at 16 after Jackass Forever ... although it may be 17. What he does know for sure: "I can't get any more concussions. I've had so many and I had a really bad one on this one and the doctor's like, 'You're done.' I have kids and I want to be there for them when they get older. Hopefully I won't be sucking soup through a straw in 10 years."
Knoxville remembers one particularly nasty side effect of a concussion he got during the first Jackass movie. "I got vertigo with the concussion when I fought Butterbean," he says. "Well, it wasn't much of a fight. It was as one-sided as a train wreck. But yeah, I got vertigo, and that lasted for a few weeks. Every time I would sit up the room would spin, if I drove around a curve the room would spin. That was pretty crazy."
2. Mental health issues
While Knoxville always goes full-throttle into stunts without any fear, he admits that the recovery from some of his more intense injuries has been tough mentally. "Sometimes after a concussion you get a little down," he says. "But it kind of works itself out. I feel like I'm very strong physically and mentally. I'm very lucky — it doesn't always work out like this for a man who's had the amount of injuries that I've had."
3. Orbital blowout fracture
Queasy fans may want to avert their eyes for this one. While filming 2018's Action Point, Knoxville flew 25 feet into the air while going down an alpine slide and landed on the side of his face. Yeah, it was as bad as it sounds. "I got a gnarly brain-erasing concussion and I didn't even know about the blowout fracture in the broken orbital lamina until I got back to the hotel after the emergency room when I blew my nose and my left eye popped out," Knoxville says. "My orbital lamina bone, they said it didn't break, it just powdered. It disappeared."
On a normal Jackass shoot, sustaining such an obvious injury to his face wouldn't be that big of a deal — the guys are always sporting bruises and black eyes like trophies. But for a scripted movie like Action Point, the evidence of his unscripted facial crash presented a problem.
"They could only shoot me on the right side of my face after that because it didn't look right; it looked like Picasso drew me," Knoxville says. "And I couldn't sneeze for six weeks. Then a couple of nights later, I was walking around with Pontius and he said something hilarious. And for whatever insane reason, I grabbed my nose when I laughed and my eye popped out again. I was like, 'Well s---.' Why I grabbed my nose and held my nose and laughed? I just must secretly hate myself. Or not so secretly."
4. Torn urethra
Knoxville will always be the first to laugh about how he sustained this cringe-inducing injury. "Breaking my jim-dog was pretty funny," he says. He doesn't know how to ride a motorcycle but he still wanted to try to backflip one during MTV's tribute to Evel Knievel n 2008. "I did it three times and each time I got worse," he adds. "On the third try it went up 20 feet in the air, came back down, and I broke the handlebars off on my crotch."
5. Torn tendon
While screening Bad Grandpa at a college fraternity in 2013, Knoxville says he was unknowingly dosed with Ecstasy at the after party — but of course, he's not mad about it, even though it led to a pretty brutal injury.
"There was kegs, there was beer pong, and I'm sitting next to some of the students in full Bad Grandpa makeup and someone hands me a cup to drink," he remembers. "About 40 minutes later, I could tell, 'Oh man, I'm X-ing right now.' I hadn't taken Ecstasy in so long, and everyone on our crew thought it was hilarious so we just kept shooting. Like, any other production they would have ground to a halt, 'What? Someone dosed you?!'"
But Knoxville just leaned in and treated the now drug-fueled night like any other opportunity for an outrageous stunt. "They had a basketball hoop there so I jumped up and grabbed the net," he says. "I had someone throw me a ball and I slammed it through but I tore a tendon in my ring finger. It was just useless. I didn't know it happened until the next day when I came down off the booze and Ecstasy. I think the fraternity got in trouble for that but I hated that because I was totally happy they dosed me."
6. Herniated discs
Some of his worst injuries don't actually have a great story attached, which is why Knoxville hates them so much. "The herniated discs are my least favorite because you never really see them happening," he says. "It's just kind of a totality of all the injuries. It started around 2006 after Jackass Number Two, I had really gotten put through the wringer, and I still deal with it to this day. That one's always going to be with me. That was debilitating."
7. Sprained ankles
Knoxville has David Letterman to thank for this one. While appearing on Late Show With David Letterman in 2001, he saw the perfect opportunity to make an appropriately Jackass kind of entrance. "Instead of walking out, I dropped from the rafters," he says. "Since I don't know how to fall, I sprained both my ankles so I left there on crutches. It was hard getting around for a while after that but I was honored to bust my ankles for David Letterman."
That wasn't the first or last time Knoxville injured his ankles. "I busted my ankles, each ankle three times a piece," he says. And while stunt men have tried time and time again to teach him how to fall safely to protect his ankles, he always refuses the help.
"No, no, no. I do not want to know. Don't ruin my career," Knoxville says in a rare serious moment. "I don't want to just roll out of it like some hot shot, I want to be a crumbling mess when I hit the ground. I revere the stuntmen. They're so talented and gnarly and athletically gifted. And I'm none of those things. I just let gravity take hold. Gravity and Newton's third law of motion, those two things gave me my career."
8. Broken wrist and rib (along with a concussion and brain hemorrhage)
Knoxville loves bulls. He will always call them his favorite costar, no matter how hard he gets wrecked by them. "Every time they destroy me, I love it. God help me, I love it," he says with a dreamy smile. "They've been so good to me, bulls. They've been so good to our franchise. They're really selfless — they just want to get you good footage, no matter the cost. They're not thinking about themselves, they're just thinking about that idiot standing in front of them. They just hate anything that moves. If it's moving, they want to make it stop moving forever. So for that, we bless them."
But after a particularly hard hit from a bull in Jackass Forever, Knoxville's days of running with the bulls are over. "I'm really sad that I'm never going to get to get in the ring with one again," he says. During the stunt, a bull named Pecker Wrecker sent him to the hospital with a concussion, brain hemorrhage, broken wrist, and broken rib. But it wasn't on the first try. Knoxville says he was hit a few times by another bull first, but it wasn't as bad — or good, as he calls it — of a hit as they wanted, so they brought in Pecker Wrecker instead. And he more than performed: Knoxville ended up in the hospital and was forced to cut the final few stunts from the movie while he recovered.
"We always push my most dangerous stunts to the back so I still had two or three more big stunts to do," he says. "But after the bull, I could no longer do those. I wanted to go as big as I did for this one as I did the others. I wanted to go out on my sword as opposed to just limping away. I was the only one willing to do those [stunts] so those went away. There may come along someone one day that I'll let them do it. But I don't know."
9. Broken collarbone
Chalk this up to one of those "silly" things Knoxville admits gives him "silly" injuries. "I'm at the top of a 30-40 foot Christmas tree and they chop it down," he says. "It just falls down and I slam and bust my collarbone, all while dressed as Santa Claus. It was just so stupid."
A version of this story appears in Entertainment Weekly's February issue, on newsstands now and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.