Beliefs Culture

Jamie Coots, co-star of ‘Snake Salvation,’ dies of a snakebite

Pastor Jamie Coots shown here praying during a service in Middlesboro, KY., died by snakebite. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channel
Pastor Jamie Coots prays during a service in Middlesboro, KY. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channel

Pastor Jamie Coots prays during a service in Middlesboro, Ky. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channel

(RNS) Pastor Jamie Coots, a serpent-handling pastor and co-star of the “Snake Salvation” reality television show, died Saturday (Feb. 15) after suffering a snakebite during a church service. He was 42.

Coots, pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Ky., was found dead at his house around 10 p.m.

Coots had been bitten at the church and passed out there, Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe said. Sharpe said emergency workers went to the church and to Coots’ home but his family members refused medical care. The police chief said there were no plans to press any charges in relation to Coots’ death.

Coots, whose father is also a serpent handling preacher, was a legendary figure among a small group of Pentecostal believers who practiced the so-called “signs of the gospel” found in Mark 16; among them, taking up serpents.

Serpent-handling believers say the Holy Spirit can protect them from harm while they handle venomous snakes. Some, like Coots, refused medical care — saying God would heal them. If he died, that would be God’s will.

At his church, services began with a warning: “There’s death in that box.” The warning referred to the wooden boxes, often decorated with crosses and religious symbols, that serpent handlers use to transport rattlesnakes and other venomous serpents.

In the past, serpent handers had been secretive about their worship services. Handling serpents in worship is outlawed in most states. Many states also ban possession of rattlesnakes and other venomous serpents.

Coots first attracted national attention in the mid-1990s, when he and his friend, the late John Wayne “Punkin” Brown, were featured in the best-selling book “Salvation on Sand Mountain,” which profiled serpent handlers. Brown died in 1998 from a snakebite. Coots often carried one of his friend’s snake boxes with him during services.

In 2008, Coots was arrested after Kentucky police found dozens of poisonous snakes at his home — he later got permits to own snakes in that state. Last year, Coots was arrested near Knoxville after state troopers found snakes in his car. He pled guilty to violating Tennessee’s ban on possessing venomous wildlife and received a year’s probation.

Gregory Coots, left, of Middleboro, KY and Andrew Hamblin, 21, pastor of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., embrace each other while Hamlin holds several copperheads during a homecoming service on May 29, 2012. Hamblin is part of a new generation of serpent handling Christian, a 100-year old faith tradition in Tennessee.

Gregory Coots, left, of Middleboro, Ky., and Andrew Hamblin, 21, pastor of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., embrace each other while Hamlin holds several copperheads during a homecoming service on May 29, 2012. Hamblin is part of a new generation of serpent handling Christians, a 100-year old faith tradition in Tennessee.

Still, he remained undaunted in practicing his faith and in spreading the word about his faith.

In the fall of 2013, he and Pastor Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., starred in “Snake Salvation,” a reality television show on the National Geographic Channel. The show was not renewed for a second season. Hamblin was with Coots when he died.

When their show was announced, Coots said that being on television would allow him to preach about Jesus to a bigger audience.

“If one person sees it and it converts them or causes them to go to a church, then it will be worth it,” he told The Tennessean.

WATCH: A video of Jamie Coots from The Tennessean.

In recent years Coots had also taken to social media to spread his faith. On Sunday morning his Facebook page was flooded with comments from family, friends and fellow believers, mourning his death.

“Dad past away yesterday,” wrote Cody Coots, Jamie’s son. “I’m missing him so much… If anyone has anything to give to help would be greatly appreciate. RIP dad I love hope to see you on the other side.”


About the author

Bob Smietana

Bob Smietana is a veteran religion writer and editor-in-chief of Religion News Service.


Click here to post a comment

  • This is very sad. It reminds me of the fictitious story about a flood victim clinging to a tree and refusing two offers of assistance from emergency personnel, stating that God would save him. After he drowned and showed up at the pearly gates he asked God why He had forsaken him. God replied, “I sent two emergency rescue teams. What do you expect from me?” Many religious people would be much better off if they also believed that evidence, logic and reason are gifts from God, and that they should be employed prodigiously.

  • That story always makes me think that God tends to be given credit for the actions of people like doctors and emergency services personnel.

    I agree with you about the evidence, logic and reason bits… not so much as gifts from God though, more as faculties of the human mind that need to be valued, trained and put into use. But I suspect that use of these faculties would lead to there being less religious people albeit in the more humane form of making them realize the folly of religion itself rather than being convinced by religious beliefs to do harmful things like handling snakes badly.

  • Oh my goodness, don’t tell me this lunatic had no health insurance or life insurance to cover his family in case “god called him home.” Those poor kids are already begging for assistance?!? How simply awful. My deepest condolences to his family. It wasn’t their fault he was this over-zealous, but they’re the ones who will now be suffering for it. I feel terrible for them.

  • Well the fact is that even the most skilful of snake handlers get bitten sooner or later. The real skill is in preparing for this eventuality. Refusing first aid was a stupid move by the pastor and I doubt any God would wish his flock of followers to be so stupid.

  • The reason this man handled snakes in the first place was that his mind had already been poisoned by religious belief before his body had been poisoned by the snake that bit him.

    The suspension of logic and reason, or what religious call faith poisons the mind into accepting as fact fantastical beliefs. This faith allows them to be able to be manipulated by so called “holy” leaders.

    This man’s mind was probably poisoned at a very early age by his parents through religious indoctrination, and he has done the same for his children, and so the cycle continues.

    Although most christian religious belief doesn’t do things so drastically dangerous, it equally suspends logic an reason in order to allow followers to have faith, and thus supports more radical beliefs as this one.

    Make no mistake, religion is poisonous!

  • Yeah, that bothered me too. They have a whole Facebook page devoted to fundraising for his funeral and family expenses now that Coots has died.

    He handled deadly snakes every day for a living. I understand that part of his faith is trusting God to look after his health, but everyone dies. So even if you don’t get health insurance, at least respect your family enough to get life insurance so that they don’t have to beg others to get by after you die.

  • Was there ever better proof of Darwinian evolution, i.e. survival of the fittest? This was a clear example of the power of evolution to remove defective genes from the human gene pool.

  • Was there ever better proof of Darwinian evolution and survival of the fittest?
    The human gene pool has benefitted from what is a tragic loss by his family.

  • Exactly.

    And some say it is bigoted to ridicule these toxic beliefs. Yet ,what else can we do? Humanity is cheapened by the nonsense that is religion.

  • Why is it that the survival of a snake handler is always considered ‘proof’ that God exists….but the death of a snake handler is never considered ‘proof’ that God is nonsense?

    The sick ‘faith’ that supports such a disfigurement of logic is a form of depravity.

    Some say Atheists are tiresome. But nothing is more tiresome than the repetition of this destructive “religious thinking” in the world. Such is the nonsense of FAITH.

  • As a person who has dealt wirh venomous snakes a lot i am amazed they all dont get bitten. I am a believer but i do not recomen. Handling a venomous snake without proper saftey gear and training. There is something to it though, I believe that 99% of people who handle snakes in this matter should in all likelihood expect to be bitte. Byt they are not. ” To those who believe no proof is needed, to those who do not none will suffice”. Harry Houdini

  • God ‘called him home’…… So now I’m sure He will provide for the family without the use of Facebook media technology….just as he didn’t need modern medical aid.

  • I have followed this story. I hate snakes of all kinds! However, we as human beings should reach out and help anyone that needs help if in anyway possible. We don’t have to agree with pastor coots, yet we shouldn’t judge him this is Gods place. About him refusing medical support,this was his right. So instead of saying harsh words think about doing whats right if you dont have a dollar to give. Give a prayer…a kind word! And if pastor coots was a true man of God its in our best interest not to laugh at his death, judge him or make fun of his family for not having money for funeral services. Remember” we reap what we sow…and sow shall we reap”. I will end with a verse from a song “everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to go now”. Maybe Mr Coots wanted to go now. One thing for certain he wasn’t scared.

  • God gave us minds. This is one way He keeps us safe, by giving us the knowledge to stay away from danger. Remember the serpant caused trouble in the Garden of Eden. That is also in the Bible. There is nothing in the Bible that tells me to worship with snakes, poison or fire. I feel for his family and church. I also pray that someone will put a stop to this practice. I also feel for the snakes, the way they are taken from their environment and kept in boxes. Is this what God wants?!!

  • I keep seeing everyone expressing disgust in God/faith for people doing these things. It should be noted however that the passage in the Bible that speaks about handling snakes does not actually appear in the Bible. It is an add on that came much later.

    The add on of Mark 16:17, 18, says: “These signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

    These verses appear in certain Bible manuscripts and versions of the fifth and sixth centuries C.E. But they do not appear in the older Greek manuscripts, the Sinaiticus and Vatican MS. 1209 of the fourth century. Dr. B. F. Westcott, an authority on Bible manuscripts, said that “the verses . . . are no part of the original narrative but an appendage.” (An Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, London, 1881, p. 338) Bible translator Jerome, in the fifth century, said that “almost all the Greek codices [are] without this passage.” (The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to S. Mark, London, 1871, J. W. Burgon, p. 53) The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) says: “Its vocabulary and style differ so radically from the rest of the Gospel that it hardly seems possible Mark himself composed it [that is, verses 9-20].” (Vol. IX, p. 240)

    There is also no record that early Christians either drank poison or handled serpents to prove they were believers