Some would say Roy Sullivan was the unluckiest man to ever walk the planet. Or some might say he was the luckiest. Roy Sullivan managed to survive being struck by lightning seven times throughout his life. You might be thinking, there’s no way that’s even possible and this is just another internet myth. But the fact is, all seven lightning strikes were documented and recorded by the superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, R. Taylor Hoskins, and all his injuries were verified by various doctors.
Nicknamed the “Lightning Man”, Roy earned himself the dubious distinction of somehow becoming a human lightning rod. His unwanted fame landed him with two television appearances, one on “That’s Incredible” and the other “To Tell the Truth“. He also earned himself a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records, and ranked #7 on Cracked.com’s “Most Bizarrely Unlucky People Who Ever Lived“.
The odds of being struck by lightning once is any given year is about 1 in 1,107,143 (based on the number of lightning induced deaths per year). While it’s more complicated to calculate the odds of being struck seven times throughout ones life, it’s roughly 1 in a decillion! That’s the number one followed by 33 zeros.
Lightning Strike #1 – Roy was seeking shelter inside a fire lookout tower as a thunderstorm passed overhead. Because the tower wasn’t quite completed, it had no lightning rod attached to the roof. Roy remembers the roof being struck about 6 times before he made a dash to find cover elsewhere. As he did so, he suffered the worst of his 7 strikes. It blew a hole in his shoe and burned a 2 inch trail up his entire leg.
Lightning Strike #2 – The second strike occurred while Roy was inside his truck. This is most unlikely because vehicles act as Faraday cages, directing the electric current around the passenger compartment and into the ground. However, Roy had his window open and the lightning deflected of the nearby trees through his window striking him in the head. This particular strike knocked him unconscious, burned off his eyebrows and most of his hair.
Lightning Strike #3 – The third strike occurred in 1970 while Roy was standing in his front yard. The lightning hit a nearby power transformer atop a pole and arced to the ground, hitting Roy in the shoulder. The only wound suffered was a minor searing on his right shoulder.
Lightning Strike #4 – The fourth strike occurred while Roy was working in Shenandoah National Park. He was standing in a ranger station when the lightning passed through the window, lightning his hair on fire. By this time, Roy developed a the fear of death and began carrying a pale of water with him. I won’t go far as to call it a phobia because the man had been struck 4 times by now. The odds of this happening to any human is astronomical.
Lightning Strike #5 – In 1975, Roy was driving his truck through the national forest when he saw a storm cloud brewing in the distance. Fearing the storm, he quickly drove his truck in the opposite direction, but Roy remembers the cloud was somehow following him. When he thought he was far enough away, he stepped out of his vehicle and only got a few yards away before he was struck for a fifth time. The lightning once again lit his hair on fire, blew off his shoe and arced from one leg to the other at knee height. He crawled back to his truck and poured the bucket of water over his head.
Lightning Strike #6 – In 1976, Roy was struck by lightning a sixth time. Similar to the 5th strike, the cloud seemed to follow him. No major injuries except for a wounded ankle.
Lightning Strike #7 – In 1977, Roy was fishing in a fresh water lake when a storm appeared in the distance. A short time later, Roy was struck in the head, once again burning his hair. As he was making his way back to his truck, a bear tried to steal the trout he had caught earlier in the day. Roy fought of the bear with a tree branch.
At one point, Roy developed a severe case of depression. Few people wanted to be around him for fear they too would be struck by lightning. He recalls one of his fellow park rangers running from him when the two of them saw a storm cloud brewing in the distance.
Sadly, after all the survived lightning strikes, Roy Sullivan took his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the stomach. It’s believed he shot himself over a relationship in which the woman did not love him back. Roy Sullivan was 71 years old.