John Payne died 44 years ago, and that’s why he’s so happy today.
To understand this now 64-year-old, colorful cowboy, you have to go back to his youth in Oklahoma where he grew up on a cattle ranch, and later died.
“See, I got killed when I was 20. So, I started over,” Payne said.
The story goes like this; Payne was doing some work involving electrical wires that he did not realize were live. He says the wires sent 7200 volts of electricity through his body, burning his arm, his leg. The electricity then exited his body through his stomach.
He also fell more than 20 feet after the shock and lay dead on the ground for five minutes.
CPR from a friend brought John Payne back to life that day and he’s never been the same.
“If you don’t enjoy life, just get killed once. When you come back, you’ll enjoy life from then on. I promise you,” he said.
Payne lost his arm from the accident and initially his direction in life.
He tells the story that he ended up $100,000 in debt, and living with his grandmother while he built his own trailer from scratch.
With that trailer and his horse, Payne convinced someone to let him perform in a rodeo.
That was 30 years and about 5,000 shows ago for a man now known as "The One Arm Bandit."
“I don’t have to act. I’m just playing myself,” Payne said.
We caught up with him outside a horse stall at the Del Mar Fairgrounds getting ready for the Del Mar National Horse Show and tending to his horse, his burrow, and his two African Watusi Longhorn Steers. He calls the animals his best friends.
“I spend all my money on my animals. So, yes I love my animals and I take very good care of them because we go down the road making a living together,” said Payne.
Payne’s act consists of him riding into the arena alongside his trailer, and joined by his animals which he somehow convinces to walk up a ramp and join him on top of the trailer, and the crowds love it.
“What they can expect to see is the very best rodeo entertainment in the world,” he said.
Payne has won the professional rodeo’s Specialty Act of the Year award 15 times in the past 30 years, more than anyone else. And now it’s become a family business. His son, Lynn, and daughter Amanda also perform at events around the country.
Payne says he’d love to see his grandkids take over the show someday. Until then, this cowboy, who has had 20 broken bones and still breaks all his own horses, said he has no plans for retirement anytime soon.
Not bad, for someone who died 44 years ago.