Roy C. Sullivan was a United States park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and he holds an interesting world record that he didn’t receive by choice. Sullivan was struck by lightning on seven separate occasions between the years 1942 and 1977 and survived to tell about it.
Sullivan encountered his first lightning strike in April 1942. He was trying to find cover from a thunderstorm and climbed into a fire lookout tower that overlooked Page Valley in Shenandoah National Park. Unfortunately, a lightning rod had not been installed on the tower. It was struck by lightning multiple times and a fire broke out. Sullivan tried to make a run for it, but as soon as he got a few feet away from the tower, lightning struck him and burnt a strip down his right leg and destroyed the nail on his big toe. When the bolt exited his body, it left a hole in his shoe.
Sullivan’s next lightning strike came in July 1969. He was driving in his truck on a mountain road when lightning hit two trees that were near the road. The bolt jumped from the trees across the road to a tree on the other side. Sullivan had both of his truck windows open, and when the bolt crossed the road, Sullivan was in its path. It burned off the man’s eyelashes, eyebrows, and the hair up to his hat brim. The bolt of lightning also knocked him unconscious.
Only a year later in July 1970, Sullivan encountered his third lightning strike. He was standing by his garden when a bolt of lightning hit an electrical transformer near his trailer. The bolt found its way to Sullivan and entered his left shoulder. He was knocked several feet back and received minor burns.
Two years later, in 1972, Sullivan had his fourth strike back in Shenandoah National Park. This time the lightning bolt set his hair on fire. He had to use a wet paper towel to smother the flames. When the 1972 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records was published, Sullivan received the record as the “only living man to be struck by lightning four times.” But Sullivan was about to improve on that record.
In August 1973, Sullivan was struck for the fifth time while trying to outrace a storm in his truck. He thought he had gotten far enough away from the storm and got out of his truck to take a look. He saw the lightning coming right at him, and it hit him in the head, causing his hair to catch fire again. The bolt went down his left arm and leg, knocked off his shoe, and untied his shoelace.
Sullivan was walking along a trail in June 1976, about a mile away from where he had been struck the second time in 1969. He was struck again by a lightning bolt for the sixth time.
Sullivan retired from the Park Service five months after his sixth lightning strike. He moved to a new town which was appropriately called Dooms, Virginia. He installed lightning rods all around his house trailer and property. While they protected him at home, his seventh and last lightning strike occurred while he was trout fishing in June 1977. The bolt knocked him out of his boat and burnt his hair yet again. He also received burns to his chest and stomach as well as the loss of hearing in one ear. His underwear and T-shirt also had holes burnt into them. But the ordeal wasn’t over. As Sullivan tried to make his way to his car, he encountered yet another problem. A black bear was looking for lunch and zeroed in on the trout Sullivan had caught. He hit the bear with a tree branch to get away. He told the Waynesboro News Virginian about his bear encounter and claimed that it was the 22nd bear attack he had dealt with in his lifetime.
While the lightning bolts never killed Roy Sullivan, who got the nickname of the “Human Lightning Rod”, something else may have been going on in his mind that eventually caused his demise. In the early morning of September 28, 1983, Sullivan died at the age of 71 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Sources: Lakeland Ledger, Guinness World Records, The Washington Post