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 is dead.

He died of natural causes on 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 third 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.

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.”


“I must.”

Haast’s passing reminded South Floridians of a certain age of the bygone era when entrepreneurs could set up quirky roadside attractions along Dixie Highway, U.S. 1, to thrill winter vacationers who fled the cold.

Twitter accolades came in from across the globe. The Reptile Centre in Northampton, England, declared him “an inspirational man within the world of reptiles.” In North Carolina, a chemist offered this salute: “Resssssssst in Peace Bill Haast.”

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 part of U.S. 1 that is today called 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 grandniece Michelle Haast of Miami, who worked at The Serpentarium as a teen in the 1980s. He had done research for a polio vaccine, sought a cure for multiple sclerosis.

The attraction had 400-pound turtles, a 20-foot-long python and a pit with a 12-foot-long crocodile called “Cookie” that weighed a ton. A 6-year-old boy fell in and died in 1977. Haast went to the pit with a pistol the very next day and shot the croc.

In a 2006 interview 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.

“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.