The Man With Multiple Lives

Roy C. Sullivan (1912-1983)

Normally we only live and die once. That’s the normal human being life cycle. However, there are extremely rare cases where a person will defy death more than once and live to tell the story. One of these these uncommon “cheaters of death” is Roy Cleveland Sullivan who defied death seven times and survived to tell us what happened.

Roy was was a U.S. park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. He was hit by lightning on seven different occasions and survived all of them. In his lifetime he was called “The Human Lightning Rod” as a nickname.

On September 28, 1983, Sullivan died at age 71, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, reportedly deeply agitated over an unreciprocated love. Two of his ranger hats are on display at two Guinness World Exhibit Halls in New York City and South Carolina. There is also a road side plaque on Tanner’s Ridge in Page County, Virginia that talks about Sullivan.

The seven lightning events happened as follows:

  1. 1942: Sullivan was hit for the first time when he was in a fire lookout tower. The lightning bolt struck him in a leg and he lost a nail on his big toe.
  2. 1969: The second bolt hit him in his truck when he was driving on a mountain road. It knocked him unconscious and burned his eyebrows.
  3. 1970: The third strike burned his left shoulder while in his front yard.
  4. 1972: The next hit happened in a ranger station. The strike set his hair on fire. After that, he began to carry a pitcher of water with him.
  5. 1973: A lightning bolt hit Sullivan on the head, blasted him out of his car, and again set his hair on fire.
  6. 1974: Sullivan was struck by the sixth bolt in a campground, injuring his ankle.
  7. 1977: The seventh and final lightning bolt hit him when he was fishing. Sullivan was hospitalized for burns in his chest and stomach.

According to National Geographic News – Flash Facts About Lightning, the odds of of becoming a lightning victim in the U.S. in any one year is 1 in 700,000. The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 in 3,000. If the different events of “being struck by lightning” were statistically independent, the chances of being struck seven times in a lifetime are about sixteen-septillion to one. However, this number heavily relies on the assumption that the odds of being struck are valid uniformly across the United States, which does not take into account the local weather or Sullivan’s possible predisposition to thunderstorm sites due to his work as a park ranger.

In Panama we have a phrase that says, “he has more lives than a cat”. Roy Sullivan is an example of an extraordinary man with more lives than one cat. I’ll bet his family and friends wanted to stay far away from him during an electrical storm. Would you?

Roy Sullivan is not the only “cheater of death”. This Web site contains ten unbelievable but amazingly true accounts of human beings that beat death. Some of these “cheaters of death” are still among us (as of this posting).

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