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The Chicago Tribune

Associated Press 11.11.99

Call Him Lucky

Bill Goss wrote The Luckiest Unlucky Man Alive so that his children would be able to read about him if he succumbed to cancer.

Jacksonville, FL - Young Bill Goss plunged his head into a sink full of water, hoping to get the wet-head look of Elvis Presley. His 9-year-old head wedged tightly between two faucets as the water poured in. Goss thought he would drown.
     "My screams dissipated into gurgling noises, since my face was immersed in the water. My head was too big and the basin too small. There was simply no way I could get my hands around my face to unplug the water. Neither could I move my face down far enough to pull it out with my teeth. That's when I knew I was going to die."
     Goss survived by ripping out two hunks of scalp and denting the faucet handles. It was the first of 30 near-catastrophic experiences he survived over the next three decades. 
     From mine collapses to plane wrecks, his dances with the grim reaper are recounted in his book, The Luckiest Unlucky Man Alive. It's 300 pages long with 70 photographs for $14.95.
     But the most deadly of the former Navy pilot's experiences began with a cyst behind his ear.
Five years ago, Navy doctors told him to get his life in order, the clear skin cyst was a quick killer --- malignant melanoma. In order to survive Goss found a doctor who removed his left ear and 200 lymph nodes --- along with a whole lot of other tissue.
     The stitches along the side of his neck made the dashing naval officer look he was put together with spare parts. Until he had reconstructive surgery, he had to glue on his silicon ear with rubber cement.
Greg O'Neil, a Cincinnati businessman and lifelong friend of Goss who was with him on several of his near-deadly misadventures, thought the cancer would kill him.
     "I was devastated. I thought this was it," said O'Neil, who grew up with Goss in the Millburn, N.J. area.
     "I lucked out," Goss said in a recent interview, adding he as been cancer-free now for five years. "I learned from those dark days that behind every challenge are great opportunities."
O'Neil doesn't see Goss , now 44 as being unlucky.     "He was always able to pull something better and positive out of bad circumstances," O'Neil said. "He's like Forrest Gump meets Terminator II."
A few of his near-death experiences illustrate his luck, or lack thereof. When Goss attended the University of Arizona in 1974, he worked weekends at a nearby mine in San Manuel.
     Working 5,000 feet below the surface, he was rigging blasting caps clearing a chute alongside a 40-foot hole. While working, he heard the sound of splitting granite. Tons of sliding boulders and rubble knocked Goss off his perch, and when the dust cleared he was dangling over a chasm by his safety belt.
     In 1985, Goss was in Rota, Spain, piloting a Navy P-3 Orion, a four-engine airplane used for tracking submarines and drug runners. He and his crew were doing practice landings when a crew member inadvertently shut down one of the plane's four engines.
     "Suddenly the aircraft snapped to the left more violently than before. It departed the left side of the runway, twisting off the landing gear and causing the no. 3 propeller to touch the ground. That instantly tore the entire 4600 shaft horsepower engine and propeller assembly off the aircraft. I remember seeing it out of the corner of my eye as it flew by over the right wing." Damage amounted to $3.5 million, but luckily no one was injured.
     About five years ago, Goss stopped his car on Interstate 295 in Jacksonville to remove a large box of garbage from the roadway. As he stood in the center of the grass median, he was struck by an out-of-control car going about 50 mph. He flew 45 feet through the air and said he had an out-of-body experience. He escaped without serious injury.
"It felt great to be dead, still able to think but no longer constrained to my physical being," Goss wrote. "I felt my mind and spirit advance out beyond the stars. In the big picture, I mean the really big picture, time, space, distance, structure, weight, dimension --- these things have no meaning --- only the human spirit does."
     His cohorts dubbed him "Commander Roadkill" and presented him with a certificate reading, "Presented to Freeway Goss for being a conspicuous obstacle in the line of a car."
     Goss lives on Fleming Island in Orange Park, Florida, about 20 miles southwest of Jacksonville, Florida. He wrote The Luckiest Unlucky Man Alive so that his twin children, Brian and Christie, now 11, would know about their father if his cancer treatment failed.
     "I wanted to leave something behind --- something for my children to read to know who their father was," he said.
     Goss' wife, Peggy, has grown accustomed to his near-death experiences. "Bill has been knocked down but never out, and he would always rise again. The guy I married has nine lives --- My problem was I didn't know what number he was on."
     His cancer forced Goss to retire from the Navy. Now he spends his time writing, giving inspirational speeches on "How To Overcome Adversity" and doing business consulting.
     Rudy Ruettiger, the Notre Dame football legend who inspired the movie RUDY, wrote the forward to Goss' book, which he called "Rudy on steroids."
"If a cat's got nine lives, Bill Goss must be a jaguar," Rudy said.
     Despite his string of unlucky luck, Goss contends he wants to live until the eighth decade of the next century, until 2080 when he turns 125.
"People have often referred to me as lucky --- because of all the things that have happened to me," Goss wrote in his autobiography. "Other people have referred to me as unlucky --- because of all the things that have happened to me. Lucky or unlucky --- it's all a matter of perspective. It doesn't matter what other people think about you --- it only matters what you think about you."

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