A prominent snake-handling preacher who gained a wider audience on reality TV died after a snake bit him during a church service Saturday evening and he refused medical treatment, police said.

Jamie Coots (center). (Image source: National Geographic Channel ebsite)

Jamie Coots (center). (Image source: National Geographic Channel website)

Jamie Coots was bitten on his right hand by a snake, according to a news release, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader reported. An ambulance crew and firefighters tried to persuading Coots to go to the hospital, but he refused treatment, police said.

Emergency workers left Coots’ house at 9:10 p.m. where he’d gone after the bite, but less than an hour later Coots died, police said. He was pronounced dead at his home.

Coots was a third-generation snake handler and pastored a small Pentecostal church, Full Gospel Tabernacle, in Middlesboro, Ky., just north of the Tennessee border. Coots gained a bigger audience last year through the National Geographic Channel’s  “Snake Salvation” reality show. From the program’s description:

In the hills of Appalachia, Pentecostal pastors Jamie Coots and Andrew Hamblin struggle to keep an over-100-year-old tradition alive: the practice of handling deadly snakes in church. Jamie and Andrew believe in a bible passage that suggests a poisonous snakebite will not harm them as long as they are anointed by God’s power. If they don’t practice the ritual of snake handling, they believe they are destined for hell. Hunting the surrounding mountains for deadly serpents and maintaining their church’s snake collection is a way of life for both men. The pastors must frequently battle the law, a disapproving society, and even at times their own families to keep their way of life alive.

Coots told the Herald-Leader that he nearly died in the early 1990s when a large rattlesnake bit him on the left arm; in 1998 a rattlesnake he was handling struck the middle finger of his right hand.

Both time, Coons refused treatment. In the 1998 instance, his right arm swelled to his shoulder, turned purple-red, and became covered in blisters. Soon the end of his middle finger fell off.

“It’s a victory to God’s people that the Lord seen fit to bring me through it,” he told the Herald-Leader the day after the 1998 bite.

Snake handlers base their beliefs on the King James translation of Mark 16: 17-18:

“And 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.”

Most Protestant churches don’t subscribe to the snake handlers’ literal interpretation of the New Testament passage.

”We’re just normal people living day to day like everybody else, most of us living hand to mouth, but what we believe, we believe, and we practice it,” Coots told the Herald-Leader in 1998.

Here’s a look at “Snake Salvation” via the National Geographic Channel:

(H/T: Variety)