Skip to main content

Reality show snake-handling preacher dies -- of snakebite

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 8:29 AM EST, Tue February 18, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Star of "Snake Salvation" has died of venomous snakebite
  • Pentecostal Pastor Jamie Coots believes that God protects against venomous snakebites
  • Coots refused treatment for the bite, authorities said

(CNN) -- A Kentucky pastor who starred in a reality show about snake-handling in church has died -- of a snakebite.

Jamie Coots died Saturday evening after refusing to be treated, Middlesboro police said.

On "Snake Salvation," the ardent Pentecostal believer said that he believed that a passage in the Bible suggests poisonous snakebites will not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God. The practice is illegal in most states, but still goes on, primarily in the rural South.

Coots was a third-generation "serpent handler" and aspired to one day pass the practice and his church, Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, on to his adult son, Little Cody.

Snake-handling pastor dies after bite
'Serpent handler' killed by snakebite
Watch this pastor handle deadly snakes
Pastor dances with venomous snakes

The National Geographic show featured Coots and cast handling all kinds of poisonous snakes -- copperheads, rattlers, cottonmouths. The channel's website shows a picture of Coots, goateed, wearing a fedora. "Even after losing half of his finger to a snake bite and seeing others die from bites during services," Coots "still believes he must take up serpents and follow the Holiness faith," the website says.

A faithful death: Why a snake handler refused treatment

On Sunday, National Geographic Channels spokeswoman Stephanie Montgomery sent CNN this statement: "In following Pastor Coots for our series Snake Salvation, we were constantly struck by his devout religious convictions despite the health and legal peril he often faced.

"Those risks were always worth it to him and his congregants as a means to demonstrate their unwavering faith. We were honored to be allowed such unique access to Pastor Jamie and his congregation during the course of our show, and give context to his method of worship. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."

In February 2013, Coots was given one year of probation for crossing into Tennessee with venomous snakes. He was previously arrested in 2008 for keeping 74 snakes in his home, according to National Geographic. Tennessee banned snake handling in 1947 after five people were bitten in churches over two years' time, the channel says on the show site.

On one episode, Coots, who collected snakes, is shown trying to wrest a Western diamondback out of its nook under a rock deep in East Texas. He's wearing a cowboy hat and a T-shirt that says "The answer to Y2K - JESUS."

The pastor is helped by his son and a couple of church members.

"He'll give up, just sooner or later," one of the members says. "Just be careful. Ease him out."

The group bags two snakes, which a disappointed Coots says hardly justifies the trip to Texas.

"Catching two snakes the first day, 'course we'd hoped for more," Coots says in the video. "We knew that the next day we was gonna have to try to hunt harder and hope for more snakes."

Death of snake handling preacher shines light on lethal Appalachian tradition

Pastor dances with venomous snakes

People we lost in 2014

AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:42 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Click through our gallery to remember those we lost this year.
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Jose Luis "Cheo" Feliciano, a giant of salsa music and Puerto Rican legend, died in a car crash in San Juan, police said. He was 78.
updated 4:01 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Born James Hellwig, before legally changing his name to Ultimate in 1993, he is fondly remembered by many for his rivalries in the ring and for his trademark vivid face paint.
updated 4:50 PM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
Actor Mickey Rooney, one of Hollywood's brightest stars in the 1930s and 1940s, died in California at age 93.
updated 6:23 PM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
Model and TV personality Peaches Geldof, daughter of Irish musician and Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof, has died at age 25.
updated 11:57 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
Comedian John Pinette was found dead in a Pittsburgh hotel room. He was 50 years old.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
DJ Frankie Knuckles, who died at 59, is remembered as a legendary producer, remixer and house music pioneer.
updated 9:06 AM EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
Kate O'Mara, the British actress best known for playing Joan Collins' sister Caress on the 1980s show "Dynasty," has died. She was 74.
updated 8:03 AM EDT, Wed March 26, 2014
Ralph C. Wilson Jr. -- the founder and longtime beloved owner of the Buffalo Bills, not to mention a leading figure in the NFL's rise to prominence -- has died.
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
Gwar lead singer Dave Brockie has died at age 50.
updated 3:52 PM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
James Rebhorn, whose acting resume includes a long list of character roles in major films and TV shows, has died at age 65.
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Sun March 23, 2014
Former Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez died at age 81 after long illness.
updated 2:06 AM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
Fred Phelps, the founding pastor of a Kansas church known for its virulently anti-gay protests at public events, including military funerals, has died.
updated 3:10 PM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
L'Wren Scott, a noted fashion designer who has been Mick Jagger's companion for more than a decade, was found dead in her apartment of an apparent suicide. She was 49.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Mon March 17, 2014
Scott Asheton, who co-founded and played drums for the influential proto-punk band the Stooges, has died. He was 64.
updated 2:11 PM EDT, Sun March 16, 2014
Comedian David Brenner, a regular on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show," has died after a battle with cancer at age 78.
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Tue March 11, 2014
Author Joe McGinniss, who chronicled the murder case of former Green Beret doctor Jeffrey MacDonald in the 1983 book "Fatal Vision," has died. He was 71.
updated 8:15 PM EDT, Sun March 9, 2014
William Guarnere, a World War II veteran popularized by the "Band of Brothers" miniseries, has died. He was 90.
updated 5:44 PM EDT, Sun March 9, 2014
Actress Sheila MacRae, who portrayed Alice Kramden in a 1960s revival of "The Honeymoooners," has died. She was 92.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT