John Goddard dies at 88; adventurer fulfilled most of childhood goals

Indiana Jones, the swashbuckling fictional adventurer, would seem to have nothing on John Goddard.

As a boy growing up in Los Angeles, Goddard dreamed of adventures in faraway lands and spent his life pursuing an elaborate set of goals. He wanted to climb the world’s most perilous peaks, navigate its major rivers and explore its most remote regions, among many other ambitions.

Goddard, an adventurer, explorer and lecturer who evidently fell only a few goals short of a boyhood list that numbered more than 100, died Friday at a Glendale hospital of complications from cancer, said his son Jeffery. He was 88.

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“When he was growing up, he heard older people say with regret that they hadn’t done the things they wanted to do,” his son said Monday. “He decided he was going to live a life of adventure so he wouldn’t have any regrets.”


Armed with that determination, Goddard sat in his bedroom one day when he was 15 and jotted down his 127 goals, inspired by his avid reading of the Encyclopedia Britannica and numerous adventure stories.

He wanted to explore the waters of the Amazon, the Congo, the Colorado and the Nile rivers. He hoped to climb an impressive list of mountains, including Mt. Ararat in Turkey, Mt. Cook in New Zealand, Mt. Popocatepetl in Mexico and Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, a towering 19,341 feet. He wanted to visit the Great Wall of China, the Panama and Suez canals, Easter Island, the Galapagos Islands and the Taj Mahal.

Goddard, who documented many of his adventures on film and in two books, “The Survivor: 24 Spine-Chilling Adventures on the Edge of Death” and “Kayaks Down the Nile,” said he did all that — and more. Each goal was meticulously ticked off as he reached it, from “watch a cremation ceremony in Bali” (No. 91) to “milk a poisonous snake” (No. 117).

Those not attained included climbing Mt. Everest (No. 21) and landing on the moon (No. 125). Jeffery Goddard said his father had reached all but a few, but could not be exact.

A popular speaker for many years at schools, colleges and motivational events throughout Southern California, Goddard supported himself and his travels through his lectures, his family said. He was a member of the Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles and several similar organizations.

John Melvin Goddard was born July 29, 1924, in Salt Lake City and moved to Los Angeles with his family as a child. He studied anthropology and psychology at USC before embarking on his adventures.

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His survivors include his wife of 33 years, Carol; six children; and 12 grandchildren.

His list, he said, was just a way of keeping organized about his goals, along with the rest of his life.

Besides, he told The Times in 2004, “It’s ridiculous to tippy-toe through life.”