‘Real life Indiana Jones,’ adventurer John Goddard dies at 88

‘Real life Indiana Jones,’ John Goddard checked off most of the life goals he set for himself at the age of 15.
Explorer John Goddard poses in 2005 with an artifact collected on one of his many adventures. Goddard, a longtime La Canada Flintridge resident, died last week at the age of 88.

John Goddard, the La Cañada Flintridge adventure-seeker who earned the nickname “the real life Indiana Jones,” has died. He was 88.

When he was 15 years old, Goddard made a list of 127 goals, from exploring the Nile River to scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro. He completed all but a few of the tasks, some of them death-defying, earning international recognition.

After a battle with a rare form of cancer, Goddard passed away on Friday, May 17 at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, said his son, Jeffery Goddard.

Born in July 29, 1924 in Salt Lake City, Goddard was the son of Percival Lundberg “Jack” Goddard and Lettie Alice Sorenson. He was raised in Los Angeles and lived most of his adult life in a La Cañada Flintridge home on Beulah Drive.


Goddard was always interested in people and different cultures. He spent his childhood reading encyclopedias and studied anthropology and psychology at USC.

During his expeditions, he aspired to reach further than previous explorers. Goddard was the first man to explore the entire length of the Nile and Congo rivers.

Even while serving in World War II as a young man, he broke records. He hit a speed record of 1,500 mph in the F-111 and an altitude record of 63,000 feet in the F-106 Delta Dart as a civilian jet pilot.

After overhearing a family friend express regret that he had not done more in his lifetime, Goddard decided that his life would be different. He created the “Life List” and began checking the goals off, one by one.


Some of the entries on the list were modest: learn to play polo, visit a movie studio, become an Eagle Scout. Others were riskier: climb the Matterhorn, ride an ostrich and milk a poisonous snake.

Writing down a goal is important, Goddard told the Los Angeles Times in 2004. “Most people say, ‘Someday ... ' And that doesn’t mean anything.”

In his lifetime, Goddard survived quicksand, a plane crash, malaria and pirates. He climbed 12 of the tallest mountains in the world and visited almost every country.

He loved to share stories of his adventures. He completed two books, “The Survivor: 24 Spine-Chilling Adventures on the Edge of Death” and “Kayaks Down the Nile.” As a lecturer, he spoke at local schools and libraries.

During one of his tours to Alhambra High School, he met his wife. Carol was a teacher at the high school and had heard about Goddard. She shared his love of travel and decided to introduce herself after the lecture. This week marks their 33rd anniversary.

“We had one of those rare happy marriages,” she said.

Together, the couple traveled around the world. There were a few times when they faced danger, and Goddard always knew what to do, she said.

On one trip to Africa, they were walking around a compound when Carol Goddard saw a lioness, she recalled. “I said [to John], what do we do? And at that moment, I was so glad I was with John Goddard. He said, ‘you turn around and walk the other direction quietly and quickly.’ When she looked back, she said, he was following her but the lioness stayed put.


Later, she asked her husband what would have happened if the animal had followed them. He told her that a human’s only chance to escape a lioness was to grab her tongue when she was close, she said.

On another excursion, this time to the Galápagos Islands, Goddard had waved his arms and yelled in Swahili to distract a male bull sea lion that was charging toward his wife, she said. It worked.

“He was so smart,” she said. “[On hikes],he could identify birds and flora and fauna and everything. He was like a walking encyclopedia.”

During his solo adventures, there were also many close calls and near-death experiences. But he always came back, eager to see another part of the world.

Among the places he didn’t see? The North Pole and the moon. But he did achieve the last two goals on his list: marry and have children (goal No. 126) and live to see the 21st century (No. 127).

Goddard leaves behind six children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The family has arranged a private memorial service in Newport Beach.


Follow Tiffany Kelly Google+ and on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly