Meet the man who has been struck by lightning seven times

Meet the man who has been struck by lightning seven times

The old saying goes that "Lightning never strikes twice" and this couldn't more true for Roy Sullivan. For Sullivan, lightning doesn't strike twice, or thrice - it strikes seven times... on your body. It could happen anywhere: while you're driving, in your front yard and, of course, when you're about to fight a bear.

Sullivan was born in 1912 in Greene County, Virginia. The first 24 years of his life passed with little-to-no incident. Then, in 1936, he started working as a ranger in Shenandoah National Park. It was here that his life took a dramatic turn.

In April 1942, Sullivan had been working with the park service for around six years. He was stationed at a fire tower when a storm blew in. The new tower hadn't been fitted with lightning rods and was struck seven or eight times, leading to Sullivan deciding to make a run for it. However, he only made it a few yards before he was struck by the storm. “It burned a half-inch strip all the way down my right leg, and knocked my big toe off,” he said. “My boot was full of blood, and it ran out through a hole in the sole.”

Strike two happened three decades later and set off a series of strikes in the space of just a few years. The year was 1969 and Sullivan was driving a park truck down a leafy road. There were trees on both sides, with Sullivan's truck driving down the middle. Lightning struck two trees on one side before jumping across the road and striking another. Sullivan had his windows rolled down and, as a result, he lost consciousness and nearly drove off the edge of a cliff. When he came around, the ranger was missing his eyebrows and eyelashes.

The third strike happened a year later while Sullivan was off duty. Now 58, he was tending to his garden when lightning struck a nearby transformer, rebounded and hit him on the shoulder. The impact knocked him down and burnt his skin.

Arguably the most dramatic strike of the lot, strike four ended up setting Sullivan on fire. “There was a gentle rain, but no thunder, until just one big clap, the loudest thing I ever heard,” he told the Lakeland Ledger in 1972. “When my ears stopped ringing, I heard something sizzling. It was my hair on fire. The flames were up six inches.” Luckily for the often-unlucky man, he was on a campsite at the time so could quell the fire using wet towels and his jacket.

Such was the frequency that Sullivan was getting struck with, he began to think that someone might have it in for him. The park ranger developed a fear of death and was afraid to stand in groups of people in case they also got hit by lightning. Not only this, but Sullivan began carrying a can of water around with him wherever he went, out of fear that his head might be set on fire again.

Despite doing all that he could to prevent the likelihood of being struck for the fifth time, it didn't do anything the help his cause. Once again in his park truck, strike five happened in 1973. After seeing an impending storm heading his way, Sullivan tried to outrun the clouds in his vehicle. Thinking that he had fled the scene, the ranger got out the car to take a look. As it turns out, this was the worst thing he could've done. "I actually saw the lightning shoot out of the cloud this time, and it was coming straight for me," he said. He was hit with such force that one of his shoes - with the lace still tied - flew off.

Now at the grand old age of 64, Sullivan was taking a stroll through his place of work when he was struck for the sixth time. It was reported that he saw a cloud coming and attempted to run away. Sullivan claims that the cloud followed him, and says that he tried to run away and ended up being struck anyway.

Sullivan chose to retire after the sixth strike, but the lightning continued to haunt him. Taking up fishing in his spare time, the pensioner was out enjoying a spot of trout fishing when he was once again struck on the head. To top it all off, after managing to find the energy to return to his car, the former-park ranger ended up having a fight with a black bear that was trying to steal his fish. According to Sullivan, this was the 22nd time he had hit a bear with a stick during his lifetime.

The chances of living a life like Sullivan are slim, in fact, the chances of being struck by lightning seven times are 4.15 in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (I don't even know what you call that number).

Of course, given the nature of the story, there are some questions marks about Sullivan's accounts of events. However, Guinness World Records was able to verify them enough to award the ranger the "Most lightning strikes survived" title.

Bizarrely, it wasn't lightning that killed Sullivan, rather a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It's not known what his reasoning for taking his own life was, but it would be fair to say that he lived a dramatic life on this planet.