Jackie Bibby, 63, is a strapping man with a ready smile. When he holds out his right hand to shake, you notice his thumb is immobile, unable to grasp.
It’s one of the many dues he’s had to pay on the way to earning five Guinness World Records, all involving venomous snakes.
“That’s what happens when you mix snakes with crazy people,” Bibby said with a grin, showing a forearm covered with scars.
Among other records, he can claim lying in a sleeping bag with 109 rattlesnakes, reclining in a bathtub with 195 rattlesnakes and the elusive “holding the most rattlesnakes in mouth” — 13. After being bitten 10 times, he’s had “a few brushes with death — but I’m extremely lucky to be able to continue doing what I love.”
In a family event Tuesday, Bibby and two assistants brought his “Snakes of Texas” free show to the Jonesboro Community Center, sponsored by AMA TechTel, a rural-based home phone and Internet provider. About 150 people were served complimentary hamburgers, chips and soft drinks and watched the raffle drawing for a pistol, with all proceeds going to upkeep for the center.
Veteran snake handlers Terry Tippit of Gatesville and Sean McCants of Frisco reached into containers on the raised platform and handily plucked serpents from small to large as the audience reacted. Bibby incorporated a bit of education into his act, but teaching gave way to touching as McCants walked through the crowd, snakes coiled around his arms.
A deadly coral snake was aggressive and had his handlers jumping, but the diamondback rattler with its fangs dripping venom proved to be the audience’s No. 1 draw.
“I’ve always been fascinated by snakes,” said Mikela Aitken, 22. “We watch Jackie’s (television) show all the time and it’s great to see him in person.” Aitken and his son, Zach, 2, moved up for photos with the snake man and one of his reptiles after getting an autograph.
Bibby, who lives in Rising Star, said he first handled snakes at the rattlesnake roundup in nearby Brownwood. “I was 18 and kept on handling them in my 20s, but just a few months out of the year.” After “sobering up” in 1988, he decided to make a career out of it, and currently stars in the Animal Planet reality TV show “Rattle Snake Republic.”
Two years ago, that career was derailed by a rattler bite that forced doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas to amputate Bibby’s right leg below the knee. “I’ve got one God-given leg and one store-bought,” he said to emphasize the ever-present danger of snake handling.
The diamondbacks are harvested in the wild, Bibby said, and he transports them to his personal appearances — some in Europe, where he’s visited 14 times.
“But I’m a small town Texican,” Bibby emphasized, tipping the brim of his custom-crafted snakeskin bowler. “My title is the Texas snake man — not anywhere else.”