In July 1967, photographer Rocco Morabito was driving to work on West 26th Street in Jacksonville, Florida. He passed some Jacksonville Electric Authority linemen doing routine maintenance on a utility pole.
He decided to take a break on his way home from his task to photograph the workers. When he approached the area where the workers were working, screams could be heard. There had been a horrible incident.
Randall G. Champion was the lineman at the top of the pole. While finishing off the maintenance, he managed to brush one of the lines at the top of the power pole.
The electricity raced through his body and knocked him out. Fortunately, his safety harness kept him from falling, but if someone hadn’t intervened right away, he’d be hanging dangerously close to death.
That man was Champion’s buddy, J.D. Thompson, who sprinted away from a different pole 400 feet away. Thompson arrived at Champion in a hurry, but he was hanging upside down and couldn’t perform CPR.
He also realized he was running out of time to liberate Champion from his harness and lower him to the ground in order to perform the treatment that would have saved his life.
Thompson had no other option but to try to re-inflate Champion’s tired lungs. While gripping Champion’s head in his hands, he clenched his lips together and blasted air into his coworker’s mouth.
He struck his chest with his hand till he felt a faint pulse. Thompson realized it was time to get his partner to the ground so he could seek assistance. Champion’s harness was unbuckled, and he was hauled down the pole across his shoulders.
Thompson and another coworker performed CPR on the ground until paramedics came. Champion had a stronger pulse, was breathing, and was only partially conscious when the medical crew arrived.
Morabito, a photographer who had stopped to photograph the workers, used his car’s two-way radio to call an ambulance. As he looked up at the two men standing high on the pole, he realized the gravity of what was happening in front of him. He photographed Thompson kissing Champion, which has since become known as the “kiss of life” shot.
The unvarnished, powerful image won the Pulitzer Prize in 1968 and received global appreciation. Champion, Thompson, and Morabito rose to prominence almost immediately. Thompson was lauded as a hero more often than he cared to admit.
Because of J.D. Thompson’s quick thinking, Randall G. Champion was able to live a full and normal life. Champion lived for another 35 years until dying in 2002 at the age of 64. Rocco Morabito died in April 2009 while getting hospice care. J.D. Thompson was still alive and well at the time this story was published.