How One Guy Got Famous For Being Constantly Hit By Lightning
Roy Sullivan achieved fame in a way that you wouldn't wish on anybody: by being struck by lightning seven motherfucking times.
His unbelievable tale has been told again and again in publications around the world, including The Guinness Book Of World Records and this very website. His Wikipedia page features a photo of him wearing a hat with a charred lightning hole in it. The only problem is that, as far as I can tell, that hat is the only evidence we have that any of this actually happened.
Here we have a man who swears that he was licked by Odin one time for every day of the week. A dude who sold the world on the idea that he not only lived through seven Marvings from Home Alone 2, but that he mostly came away unscathed. Let's take a deeper look at his shocking story. Roy, buddy, I love you and I really hope this story is true, because you're a true American legend if it is. But brother, I'm not buying it.
Roy Sullivan was born in 1912 in a small Virginia town nestled in the Shenandoah Valley. If you grew up in the Shenandoah Valley in the early 1900s, you were basically a wildling. Sullivan once claimed to have shot 30 rabbits in one day, which is a super weird brag, and also seems a tad bit excessive. Isn't there a point after you've killed, I don't know, five, six, hell even ten rabbits that you stop and think to yourself "Ya know, I think I'm good for the day"? Roy never had that thought. Thirty rabbits had to go down that day, and that was that.
Or did they? This is an important time to stop and say that this, like everything we're about to read, was just a claim by Roy, unverifiable and dubiously grandiose. It's entirely possible that Roy's penchant for boastful storytelling began at a young age. Or it's possible that he was known to the other Shenandoah free folk as Rabbit's Bane, and he did truly kill the entire cast of Watership Down.
As Roy grew older, his love for nature grew as well. He made it official by joining the park services as part of the fire patrol. Roy was now entrenched in an environment where he would spent the rest of his adult life -- that sweet spot where God's taser has pinpoint accuracy and intent.
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The First Strike
Roy was pretty fresh in the department when he took his first blast in 1942. Stationed at a new fire tower that hadn't had lightning rods installed yet, he watched as a massive storm rolled in. After seeing lightning strike the tower six or seven times, Roy said that's it and made a break for it.
This was, undoubtedly, a questionable move. It's the classic changing lanes in standstill traffic scenario. The grass is always greener, but sometimes when you get to that other lane, you're even worse off. Only this scenario comes with more consequences than having to find another podcast to queue up. This act carries the ramifications of being barbecued into a Halloween decoration and getting super dead.
Sure enough, Roy only made it a few feet before Zeus targeted him in that great real-time strategy game in the sky and hit his "lightning" hotkey. In what will become a running theme here, absolutely nobody was around to see what happened next.
Roy claimed to have had a half-inch stripe burned down his right leg, and that his big toe was blown clean off. Let's just stop right there. Toes shouldn't do that, you guys. Nobody in this world is deserving of a situation that finds their biggest toe up and bolting the other way like a criminal on Cops. But it's what allegedly happened. And you know what? I'm inclined to believe this one. After looking into it as deeply as possible and stacking it up against the ones that follow, I can say confidently say that I'd give this first story a 51 percent chance of being true. Those odds, however, are about to go way down ...
The Middle Strikes
It was almost 30 years later, in 1969, that Roy claimed to have been struck again. His tale went that he was driving his park truck through the forest when another storm hit. He said the lightning danced from tree to tree, working closer toward him as he drove through the mid '90s blockbuster scene he was living, before Thor was done screwing around and sent a shot straight through the windshield, knocking him unconscious.
When Roy came to, he had nearly driven his car over a cliff and was missing his eyebrows and eyelashes. And that's pretty much all the damage he took. Roy, my man, I'm really trying here, but this one is hard to buy. What he's selling us on is that lightning not only singled him out, but once it had, he was hit by the softest-ass bolt of all time and it decided to spare him with a drunken frat boy prank for an injury.
I personally find it more likely that old Roy was hot-doggin' it in his work truck, because that's a time-honored, god-given American right, and he got a little sideways and put that bastard into a tree. I believe Roy then did some quick thinking, grabbed a plain Bic razor, and went for full aerodynamic efficiency. Is it hard to believe that someone would go to such lengths to make up a story about getting hit by lightning? Absolutely. Is it harder to believe than Roy's version? Hell no.
But even if I'm wrong and this one is also true, the doubts have to start mounting when it comes to Roy's claim that Thor checked back in on him just one year later. This next strike happened, you guessed it, when Roy was alone. He said he was hanging out, doing a little bit of gardening on a clear sunny day when this one hit. He said he was struck in the shoulder, lifted off his feet, and burned only slightly. It's as if the guy was rapidly building up a physical tolerance for lightning. That's how it works, right?
Checking back in on our odds, I'm going to put my belief in this strike at a generous 1 percent. And I'm going to go with a 99 percent chance that he burnt himself on the stove and thought, Well shit, my whole thing is covering up minor mistakes with unbelievable lightning stories, so here we go again, baby!
Roy was "struck" once again a few years later, and it allegedly set his damn hair ablaze. With Roy putting on the best Ghost Rider cosplay of all time, he frantically tried to subdue the flames that were dancing on his head by sticking it in the sink, but it wouldn't fit.
Imagine how low you would feel in that moment. You've been struck by lightning for the fourth time in your life, your head is now a campfire, and only then do you find out that your head doesn't fit in your sink. Instead, Roy tracked down some wet paper towels and blotted out the raging inferno on the top of his skull like he was in the world's darkest Brawny commercial. He then is said to have driven himself to the hospital to get himself checked out, because again, there was absolutely nobody else around at the time.
He's Heating Up!
Roy was, understandably, starting to gain some minor fame from all of this. After the fourth strike, he was interviewed by The Washington Post ... to whom he claimed that he was actually struck once as a child too. He insisted he had been in the fields cutting wheat when a bolt shot through his scythe and set the field on fire. Roy told, and The Washington Post printed, a story that turned him into a living version of a 1980s metal album cover.
It's fair to conjecture at this point that Roy may have loved him some attention. And who wouldn't see how far they could take it if people were not only believing your claims, but also printing them up as fact, despite the only evidence being minor injuries and secondhand head-nodding from a few doctors and friends?
The fourth strike also saw The Guinness Book Of World Records come calling. They dubbed Roy the "only living man to be struck by lightning four times." Roy was famous. He could have called it there, but this is the damn Spark Ranger (yes, an incredible real nickname given to Roy around this time) we're talking about. Roy was thus "hit" for the fifth time in 1973.
He was once again driving his truck through a storm, because he's in a toxic relationship with lightning wherein, even though it has quite literally burned him so many times before, he just keeps coming back for more. After Roy believed he was out of harm's way, he stopped the truck for a quick little peek around. He described what happened next, saying: "I actually saw the lightning shoot out of the cloud this time, and it was coming straight for me." According to Roy -- who was, and I hope you're sitting down, alone at the time -- his hair was once again set afire and his boot popped off.
It's not said how Roy put out the head fire this time, but one hopes that he attempted to dip his dome into a nearby river, only to find that the river had run completely dry, so he had to rub it against tree bark until it was finally quelled. Either way, the ink had hardly dried on Roy's Guinness section before they needed to update the strike count.
The sixth time Roy straight up lied to everybo- I'm sorry, was struck by lightning was a few years later. I'm going to need you guys to suspend your disbelief for just one second here and please bear with me: Roy Sullivan was once again alone, with no witnesses nearby, when he was struck. This time, Roy seems to have really phoned it in. There's no documentation of any sort of notable bodily harm, no fantastical story. Roy was simply walking along a trail while on duty when he was hit.
As with all great artists, they sometimes lose their spark as they age. Springsteen hasn't put out a genuinely good song in decades, DeNiro is just cashing paychecks these days, and Roy Sullivan didn't feel the need to add much flair to his sixth lightninging. Just send it over to Guinness and tell them to update his damn section, please and thank you.
The Last Strike
Roy, though, had one last shocker in him. The seventh and final strike was a doozy.
Roy had finally retired, so he decided to move to a place where it doesn't storm and he would stay inside and watch TV all day and never, ever go outside again under any circumstances. I'm joshing, he went right back down to the park to throw the double birds at fate once more. He was fishing in a stream -- all alone, with no witnesses nearby -- when this one hit. His head was struck once more, his body was burned, and some holes were ripped in his shirt and pants.
And once again, this either happened and we are taking his word for it, or Roy Hulk-Hoganed his shirt and held a lighter to his nipples for a little bit. Either option is super weird and inexplicable in its own way. But Roy knew that if his final comeback song was going top the charts, he'd need a little more spice. He claimed to have pulled himself back to the truck, where he was met by a hungry black bear, who was interested in the fish still hanging from his line.
Despite being freshly incinerated, Roy asserted that he was able to fight the bear off and make his way to the car with his life -- and fish -- fully intact.
Somewhere along the way in telling this story, Roy also noted that this was the 22nd time he had successfully fought a bear. This is the adult version of a kid finding the limits of exactly how much they can get away with before someone puts an end to their shit. People were giving Roy the platform to spit this nonsense as absolute fact, and he thought, What the hell, I'll throw some killer bear stuff in there too and see if they run with it.
The reality is that we'll never truly know the whole story here. Roy took his record to the grave, and it has yet to be matched. It's been almost unanimously accepted in print and legend, despite the questionable lack of proof and even more incredible idea that someone was struck by lightning seven times and didn't at least tie the record for World's Deadest Man.
I would love to believe you, Roy. Your story is incredible, a wild folk tale come to life. But I cannot. Articles about Roy Sullivan like to point out that the odds of being struck by lightning seven times in your life are 4.15 in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Well, I'm putting the odds that Roy was telling the truth at 4.14 in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
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