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The Unbelievable Story of Roy Cleveland Sullivan: The Human Lightning Rod

Surviving thunder strike

By Deji AkomolafePublished 14 days ago 3 min read

Roy Cleveland Sullivan, an American park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, holds a unique and astounding record. Between 1942 and 1977, Sullivan survived being struck by lightning on seven different occasions, earning him the nicknames "Human Lightning Conductor" and "Human Lightning Rod." His incredible and somewhat terrifying experiences have been recognized by the Guinness World Records, making him the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being.

Early Life and Career

Roy Sullivan was born on February 7, 1912, in Greene County, Virginia. He joined the National Park Service as a park ranger in Shenandoah National Park, a role that would bring him closer to nature—and seemingly to lightning. Known for his dedication to preserving the natural beauty of the park, Sullivan was a respected figure in his community. However, his career took a strange and dangerous turn when he became a literal magnet for lightning.

The First Strike: 1942

The first documented lightning strike occurred in 1942. Sullivan was in a lookout tower, which was newly built and had not yet been equipped with a lightning rod. During a storm, lightning struck the tower multiple times before finally hitting Sullivan. The bolt caused severe burns on his leg and left a hole in his shoe, but remarkably, he survived.

The Second Strike: 1969

After nearly three decades of relative peace, lightning found Sullivan again in 1969. This time, he was driving a truck through the mountains when a bolt struck two trees on either side of the road and jumped to his vehicle. The strike knocked Sullivan unconscious and burned off his eyebrows and eyelashes. Despite the intense shock, Sullivan managed to regain consciousness and control of the truck, narrowly avoiding a crash.

The Third Strike: 1970

Just a year later, in 1970, lightning struck Sullivan for the third time while he was in his front yard. The bolt hit a nearby power transformer and then jumped to his shoulder, searing it. Once again, Sullivan survived, but the pattern of repeated lightning strikes was becoming both puzzling and alarming.

The Fourth Strike: 1972

In 1972, Sullivan was working inside a ranger station when lightning struck him yet again. This fourth strike set his hair on fire. In a desperate attempt to extinguish the flames, Sullivan rushed to the bathroom and doused his head with water. This incident left him with burns but, incredibly, no serious injuries.

The Fifth Strike: 1973

The fifth encounter occurred in 1973 while Sullivan was patrolling the park. He saw a storm cloud forming and tried to drive away from it, but the cloud seemed to follow him. When he finally thought he had outrun it and got out of his truck, lightning struck him, causing burns to his legs and knocking his left shoe off. Despite the injuries, Sullivan once again managed to survive.

The Sixth Strike: 1976

By this time, Sullivan's reputation as the "Human Lightning Rod" had become well-known. In 1976, he was struck for the sixth time while he was walking along a trail in the park. The lightning burned his ankle and injured his leg. Still, Sullivan survived, albeit with increased wariness of thunderstorms.

The Seventh and Final Strike: 1977

The seventh and final documented lightning strike occurred on June 25, 1977. Sullivan was fishing in a freshwater pool when lightning struck him on the top of his head, traveling down and burning his chest and stomach. Despite being severely injured, he managed to reach his car and drive to get help. This final strike confirmed Sullivan's place in the Guinness World Records.

Legacy and Recognition

Roy Sullivan's incredible survival story has fascinated people for decades. His experiences have been studied by meteorologists and medical professionals alike, seeking to understand how one person could survive so many lightning strikes. While some have speculated that Sullivan might have had a unique physical or genetic trait that attracted lightning, others attribute his repeated encounters to sheer bad luck and the nature of his outdoor job.

Sullivan's story is not just about surviving lightning strikes; it's also about resilience and the human spirit's capacity to endure extraordinary circumstances. Despite the repeated trauma, Sullivan continued his work as a park ranger until his retirement.

Personal Life and Tragic End

Roy Sullivan's personal life was as tumultuous as his career. Known for his rugged demeanor and dedication to his job, Sullivan was also deeply affected by his lightning experiences. Tragically, on September 28, 1983, he took his own life at the age of 71. His death was a stark reminder of the mental and emotional toll that such repeated trauma can take on an individual.


Roy Cleveland Sullivan's life story remains one of the most extraordinary tales of survival against nature's most powerful forces. His seven encounters with lightning and his ability to survive them have cemented his place in history and continue to inspire awe and curiosity. While his life ended tragically, his legacy as the "Human Lightning Rod" endures, a testament to the unpredictability of nature and the resilience of the human spirit.

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About the Creator

Deji Akomolafe

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Comments (1)

  • Sandeep Kumar 14 days ago

    Fascinating and well-written, Roy Cleveland Sullivan's incredible story of survival against lightning strikes showcases the resilience of the human spirit and the unpredictability of nature.

Deji AkomolafeWritten by Deji Akomolafe

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