MIAMI -- If snake venom holds the secret to a long life, then Bill Haast had the magic.
The man who mesmerized generations of paying customers from 1947 to 1984 by extracting venom at his Miami Serpentarium as a spine-tingling South Florida attraction has died.
He died of natural causes Wednesday in Punta Gorda, on Florida’s west coast, where he had made his home. He was 100 years old.
Born William E. Haast on Dec. 30, 1910, in Paterson, N.J., he was a South Florida celebrity for surviving successive venomous snakebites. Friday, his wife Nancy put his lifetime tally at 172. The legacy left him immunized, enabling him to donate life-saving blood to 21 victims across the years.
Never miss a local story.
All survived, she said.
Grainy black-and-white television footage from 1962, now part of the Wolfson Archive, shows a fit, toothy 51-year-old Haast in a hospital recovering from his 79th snake bite -- his first ever by a King Cobra.
A rare survivor, he declared himself doing “very well, anxious to get back to work.”
Why? “I must.”
Part scientist, part entertainer, Haast spent his early years in Miami as a mechanic for Pan Am, while he built the snake farm he called The Serpentarium along a portion of U.S. 1 that today is part of Pinecrest.
By the mid-1960s he was putting on five shows a day, dressed in a white lab coat, extracting venom to sell for scientific experimentation.
“He was into it for the science on how snake venom affected the body,” said his grand-niece,who worked at The Serpentarium as a teen in the 1980s. He had done research for a polio vaccine and sought a cure for multiple sclerosis.
“He’d put on a show just to supplement the research for the while,” she said. “And in the end the research could take care of itself.”
It was 2006 and he was still extolling the virtues of venom, saying he injected himself weekly with a cocktail from five snakes -- cobras, cottonmouths, kraits, mambas and rattlers -- homeopathy the Food and Drug Administration would never endorse.
“I could become a poster boy for the benefits of venom,’’ Haast boasted. “If I live to be 100, I’ll really make the point.’’
And so he did.