Photographer Rocco Morabito was driving to work on West 26th Street in Jacksonville, Florida, in July 1967. He went by some Jacksonville Electric Authority linemen performing regular maintenance on a utility pole.
He decided to stop on his way home from work to shoot the workers. Screams could be heard as he reached the area where the workers were working. A terrible incident had occurred.
The lineman at the top of the pole was Randall G. Champion. While finishing the maintenance, he brushed one of the power pole’s lines.
The power surged through his body, knocking him unconscious. Fortunately, his safety harness saved him from falling, but he would have been hanging dangerously near death if no one had interfered immediately.
J.D. Thompson, Champion’s friend, raced away from a different pole 400 feet distant. Thompson arrived at Champion quickly but was upside down and unable to do CPR.
He also recognized he was running out of time to free Champion from his rope and lower him to the ground to administer the life-saving therapy.
Thompson had no choice but to try to re-inflate Champion’s exhausted lungs. He squeezed his lips together and blasted air into Champion’s mouth while holding his coworker’s head in his hands.
He beat his chest with his hand till a faint pulse was felt. Thompson realized it was time to get his buddy to the ground and seek help. Champion’s harness had been unbuckled, and he was being hauled down the pole by his shoulders.
Thompson and a colleague administered CPR on the ground until paramedics arrived. When the medical team came, Champion had a stronger pulse, was breathing, and was only partially conscious.
Morabito, a photographer who had stopped to photograph the employees, called an ambulance using his car’s two-way radio. He grasped the gravity of what was unfolding in front of him as he gazed up at the two men standing high on the pole. He captured Thompson kissing Champion, which became known as the “kiss of life” image.
The unadorned, powerful image was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1968 and earned worldwide acclaim. Champion, Thompson, and Morabito rose to fame quickly. Thompson was hero-worshipped more often than he cared to admit.
Randall G. Champion was allowed to live an everyday life because of J.D. Thompson’s quick thinking. Champion lived another 35 years before passing away in 2002 at 64. Rocco Morabito died under hospice care in April 2009. J.D. Thompson was still alive and healthy at the time of publication.