Feature article written on Bill Goss in MAXIM Magazine
Bill Goss: He Gave Death the Finger 21 Times
by Chris Rodell
Bill Goss can’t decide if he’s immortal or a marked man. Meet the guy caught in a custody battle between the grim reaper and lady luck.
Yeah, yeah, you’ve got your “I thought I was toast” story: the night you outran a 300-pound bouncer to whom you’d tossed a saucy “so long, Slim” on your way out of a club. The day a suicidal squirrel ran in front of your car on an icy highway. And that time the university football coach caught you with his wife’s backfield in motion.
But if you ever found yourself in the unenviable position of trading near-death stories with Bill Goss, he’d leave you slack-jawed and feeling like a wuss. In his 43 years on earth, Goss has been shot at, wrecked, rocked, chomped, crashed, crushed, then ravaged by a cancer so deadly the docs advised him to start making arrangements with the quiet fellows who tuck you in for the big dirt nap. He’s given death the slip so many times, he’s the self-proclaimed luckiest unlucky man alive. And if that which does not kill a man only makes him stronger, then you’re about to meet Hercules. Here, Maxim’s seven favorite Goss-should-be-dead stories.
Faster-Talking Than a Speeding Bullet
Charitable friends describe Goss as gregarious, which is sort of like describing a rare tropical fish with the single word wet. And one night, in the scrub-oak woods of New Jersey, Goss’ talent for yap saved his 17-year-old hide. It was 1973, and while cruising with two of his hoodlum pals, Goss decided he needed the bumper off the piece-of-crap Volvo parked outside a dive bar. Mid-heist, the owner came hauling ass out of the shack, armed with a handsome shotgun and righteous indignation. After a 20-minute high-speed chase, the owner pulled alongside the terrified punks, pointed the gun out his open passenger-seat window, and screamed, “Pull over before I blow your friggin’ brains all over the place!” One dumb turn down a dead-end road later and both barrels were leveled at the bridge of Goss’ nose. The man with his finger on the trigger was huge, sweating, bare-chested, and quaking violently with rage.
“I truly believed he was going to blow Bill’s head off,” says Carl Guarino, one of the cohorts who remains Goss’ pal today. “I got ready to run for my life.” What happened? Did Goss overpower him? Use karate? What?
“No. He talked him out of it.”
Of course. “The guy said we deserved to die and that he didn’t believe in the police,” Goss says, chortling at the dark recollection. “Then he told me to get down on my belly. Well, I’d just seen Deliverance, so I said, ‘No. You’re going to have to shoot me, ’cause I’m not doing it.’ That kind of took him aback. Then I just let the bull start flying. I told him what a great driver he was for catching us, how no one else could have made that turn and held the car on the road—first-rate ass-kissing. He started to soften up.” Soon the gun was pointed at the ground and the car owner’s veins were flush with his neck. And damned if Goss didn’t ask his new buddy if he’d mind helping him recover his tools from the crime scene.
“The guy just stared at him for a minute,” Guarino says, “shook his head, and said, ‘I’ll say this for you, kid. You got balls.’”
As a student at the University of Arizona, Goss worked weekends in 1974 at the nearby underground copper mine in San Manuel, 5,000 feet below the desert. His mining career ended the exact second his life almost did. He was rigging blasting caps for $4.13 an hour, clearing a chute alongside a 40-foot hole. But before he’d finished the job, he heard a sharp crack! in the void above. It was the sound of shattering granite. Tons of sliding boulders and rubble knocked Goss off his perch, and when the dust cleared, the badly bruised undergrad was dangling above the chasm by his safety line.
“He kind of underplays that one,” says fellow miner Larry Rayko. “This is the sort of thing that happens and they don’t even find a body. They do a head count at shift’s end and come up one short. Then you know there’s trouble.”
Says Goss, “My foreman was a Mexican guy, and he hauled me in. He said, ‘You shoulda been sandwiched like a damned granite taco, mon. You one lucky blond chiquita.’ I took the elevator to the top and never went back.”
In 1974, Goss had a sweetheart named Linda. More important, she had a Doberman pinscher named Lance. “I was standing, and he came up real nice, started sniffing my feet,” recalls Goss. “Then he started sniffing my knees while I was petting his head. He was a big dog, about crotch-high.”
Which was unfortunate. Because once Lance got to Goss’ crotch, the dog snapped. Literally and figuratively. “Man, it was awful. He just chomped down on the whole package,” Goss recalls. “His upper teeth hit just above my penis and his lower teeth were clear back to my ass. He was snarling and twisting and then started to drag me back. I was walking on tiptoes for about 30 feet as he took me from the hall, past the dining room, and clear back to the living room. It was like a punch in the balls, but the worst part was I knew he was going to keep grinding until he tasted blood.”
Both Linda and Goss’ potential father-in-law, no doubt the dog’s diabolical trainer, stood as motionless as cigar store Indians. But Linda’s mom, God bless her, sprang from her sofa and—whap!—struck a stinging blow to the dog’s snout. “The dog yelped and jumped to near the ceiling. I ran straight out that door and across four lanes of traffic.”
The next day, that same dog disfigured the arm of the kindly woman who had rescued Goss from a life as RuPaul, and the family concluded it was time to get rid of Lance.
“That memory still makes the hair on my neck stand at attention,” shudders Goss. “He could have had me by the throat. Not that that would have exactly been any worse.”
Some men hunt deer. Bill Goss hunts snakes. By 1977, Goss was a navy man, and he and a friend were on weekend liberty in Orangeburg, South Carolina—snake hunting capital of the world, according to Goss.
“He was a helluva nice guy, but he was pretty reckless,” Goss says. “But then again, who was I to condemn a man for that?”
The hillbilly buddy, Smoky Mountain high on moonshine, was showing off his shotgun when—oops!—he discharged both barrels about an inch from Goss’ head. The blast blew a hole in the wooden porch roof just above Goss’ numb, smoking, powder-burned noggin.
“The guy was shaking. He knew he’d about blown my head off with his clumsiness,” Goss recounts. “I stumbled away and said, ‘Pal, I don’t think I’ll be seeing you anymore.’ No hospital. I just went back to the base in Charleston. My ear rang for about 24 hours, but I couldn’t get the smell of gunpowder out of my hair for days.”
By 1980, Bill Goss had dedicated his life to two things: becoming the best pilot for Uncle Sam and the best husband for Peggy Gleason. Serving such dual devotions can be trying: low pay, long tours of duty, danger, “and those midnight phone calls,” says Peggy.
In 1985, Goss was in Rota, Spain, a pilot commanding one of the navy’s P-3 Orions. Weighing in at 50 tons each, these beauties tracked Soviet submarines; were capable of dropping mines, missiles, and mayhem; and conducted covert monitoring that gave NATO forces a considerable edge over the Evil Empire. At $65 million apiece, the planes were vital to defense and a showpiece of America’s flying forces.
Goss nearly rolled his.
“We were doing test landings at about 145 miles per hour,” he says. “One run started out as a textbook maneuver, but it blew apart real quick.”
A crew member inadvertently shut down an engine. The result was chaos. U.S. Navy Commander Pat Mills, stationed with Goss, saw the results of the accident firsthand. “The plane shot back and forth across the runway, tore off an engine, and nearly ripped off a wing,” recalls Mills. “When that happens, it usually winds up in a fireball, with no survivors.”
“The investigation blamed a number of factors, including human errors from throughout the crew, but I got blamed because I was in charge,” says Goss. Eventually, however, the navy ordered procedural changes in its training manuals, and Goss was exonerated. “Of all the times I nearly died, that’s the only one that makes me angry.”
Goss Goes to Heaven
Goss died in 1990, but he got over it.
Having stopped to clear up someone else’s debris from I-295 near his home in Jacksonville, Florida, he was struck by a Ford Fairlane and, in a first for him, logged planeless flight time. Police estimates say the car was traveling nearly 70 mph and sent Goss 45 feet through the air. Goss swears he saw a glimpse of the other side. We’ll return to this.
“I was standing in the median, waiting to get back across the road, and saw this beautiful restored muscle car barreling around the curve, weaving amid traffic.” Within seconds the hotshot behind the wheel had lost control of the car and was suddenly tearing down the grass, right toward Goss.
“I figured my only chance was to jump up before the left front quarter panel hit me. I did, and it saved me from being cut in two. Witnesses said they saw me cartwheel through the air six or seven times before I came down. I, however, remember clearly seeing my body lying motionless below me. And I felt an incredible peace.”
His next recollection was that of hysterical screaming. A woman shrieking, “Don’t move him! His back might be broken!” His back was not broken. Nothing was. No internal bleeding, either. He walked out of the hospital four days later.
So what was it like on the other side?
“Man, it was cool. Just great. Really wonderful.”
What was cool? The white lights? Pearly Gates? Naked harp-strumming supermodels?
“Nah. Better. Just wait.”
Death, and This Time It Means Business
In 1994 sweet, pretty Peggy Goss thought fate had handed her Superman kryptonite. It was cancer, and because this was Bill Goss, it wasn’t just the mother of all cancers, it was the mother-in-law of all cancers: amelanotic melanoma.
Goss’ mischievous childhood friend, now the respectable Dr. Carl Guarino, said the news left him feeling gutted. As a Rochester, New York, radiologist, he’s seen more than 1,000 cancer patients. “This melanoma is notorious for being particularly deadly,” he says. “And behind his ear is a particularly bad location because it tends to be more aggressive in this location. Maybe five people out of 100 will survive it even one year after diagnosis. It’s a bad, quick killer.”
Six months. That’s what the doctors told 38-year-old Goss. The prognosis hit the usually irrepressible Bill Goss like a mine cave-in, like a shotgun blast to the head, like an angry son-of-a-bitch bite to the balls. “I’d thought before about the times I’d nearly died, and I knew I’d had it pretty good—seen the birth of my twins, flown through the clouds,” says Goss. “But when the doctors tell you it’s cancer, that gets your attention real fast. It took that diagnosis for me to really see how lucky I’d been.”
Goss underwent surgery that took most of his ear, a main salivary gland, and 200 lymph nodes—but not his spirit. In fact, with his face still paralyzed and his wounds barely healed, he took a white-water rafting trip he’d planned before the diagnosis (damned if he was going to lose his deposit). That was roughly 55 months ago, proving doctors may know cancer, but they don’t know jack about Bill. A little head-cleaving surgery here, some plastic surgery there, and one of the meanest cancers of them all was in remission.
Who to credit—the doctors? Even they call him remarkable. Maybe what’s remarkable is Goss’ own indefatigable jones for life. Relates Peggy: “The day the doctor told him he had only six months to live, Bill tried to cheer me up by saying, ‘At least he didn’t say three months!’” Try putting that kind of attitude in an early grave.
MAXIM'S TIMELINE OF DOOM FOR BILL GOSS
For Goss, death never seems to take even a long weekend.
Nine-year-old Goss, in a vain attempt to cop Elvis’ wet-headed look, gets his head stuck under the faucets in a bathroom sink and nearly drowns in three inches of water.
Wasp flies into Goss’ mouth and tries to exit through his asshole, stinging all the way and nearly sealing his windpipe.
Volkswagen slides off snowy road and into a concrete embankment. Passenger Goss’ head goes through windshield, and he takes his SAT with a bloody bandage around his head.
Enraged car owner points shotgun two inches from Goss’ head, with intention to kill him. Reconsiders.
Mugger tries to stab Goss in the eye during junkyard brawl. Millburn, New Jersey, police arrest both. An hour later, Goss walks.
Arizona copper mine collapses, nearly crushing Goss (above, center), who quits that particular summer job before the rubble settles.
While Goss is climbing down Arizona’s Mount Lemmon, a rock on the trail gives way, and Goss nearly falls off a sheer 200-foot cliff. He pulls himself up by his fingernails.
Drunken 300-pound buddy body-tosses Goss headfirst onto concrete floor, knocking out his two front teeth. Med student witnesses are amazed spinal cord remained intact.
Doberman pinscher chomps down on Goss’ jewels, from belly to butt. Next day, the mad dog attacks its owner’s mother and is given his walking papers.
Flight deck veteran aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger tackles Goss seconds before he’s sucked into the meat grinder known as the air intake on an A-7 Corsair jet engine.
Goss’ military truck, hauling eight deadly 2,000-pound mines, blows a tire. Resulting bouncing bombs nearly blow up Goss.
Accidental shotgun blast an inch from Goss almost decapitates him.
1982 Super-heated wood-burning stove nearly sucks all the oxygen from small room where Goss and wife Peggy are enjoying a bottle of wine. Goss recovers in time to drag unconscious Peggy to safety.
Goss and crew nearly fly a P-3 Orion jet, an armed Soviet sub tracker, into a waterspout (a tornado over water, undetectable by radar) within the Bermuda Triangle.
Friendly stranger lets Goss tool up the runway in his $10,000 ultralight plane. A freak wind lifts Goss, who has no idea how to land, above the trees. He brings it in minutes before thunderstorms hit.
Goss and hunting buddy extinguish cigarettes seconds before entering a Montana cabin that turns out to be filled with propane from a malfunctioning heater. Goss quits smoking on the spot.
Goss takes off in Italy to fly a spy mission over Libya. In bad weather, and with radio contact shut off for security, Goss realizes—with seconds to spare—they’re about to fly into Mount Etna.
While performing test “touch and go’s” in $65 million P-3 Orion spy planes, Goss and crew run plane off the runway, sheering off an engine and nearly rolling the craft.
Careless driver runs a stop sign and stalls in front of Bill and Peggy Goss on wet highway. The couple’s car hydroplanes through eight 360s before coming to rest on the median.
Pedestrian Goss flies 45 feet through the air after being struck by car traveling nearly 70 mph.
Docs tell Goss a rare cancer will kill him in six months. Five years later, the disease is in full remission.