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A Kentucky snake-handling preacher who regularly appeared on television handling serpents to demonstrate his connection with God has died of a snake bite.

Pastor Jamie Coots was found dead on Saturday at his house in Middlesboro, Kentucky.

Emergency personnel had gone to his home about 90 minutes earlier, after getting a call, and found Coots suffering from a snake bite wound to his right hand, Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe said in a statement.

"After examination and discussion of possible dangers if the wound was not treated - treatment and transport to the hospital was refused," the statement said.

Coots had been handling a rattlesnake during a service at his Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Church in Middlesboro when he was bitten, another preacher, Cody Winn, told WBIR-TV.

Coots had become famous for his unorthodox sermons, in which he handled venomous snakes to prove his claim that he was protected by God.

Coots had appeared in a National Geographic television show entitled Snake Salvation about Pentecostal preachers who defy the law to use serpents as part of their religious services.

"National Geographic joins his family, friends and community in mourning the loss of Pastor Jamie Coots," a National Geographic spokesperson told online news site Mashable.

"In following Pastor Coots for our series Snake Salvation, we were constantly struck by his devout religious convictions despite the health and legal peril he often faced."

National Geographic

Snake-handling, which is illegal in most places, is practised as a test of faith and guided by the theory that true believers will not be harmed.

Appearing last year on ABC's Nightline, Coots said he had been bitten nine times, including once that cost him a part of a finger.

"If the Bible told me to jump out of an airplane, I would," he said on the show.

"Those risks were always worth it to him and his congregants as a means to demonstrate their unwavering faith," said National Geographic's spokesperson.

"We were honoured to be allowed such unique access to Pastor Jamie and his congregation during the course of our show, and give context to his method of worship. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."

About a year ago, Coots was charged in Tennessee with illegally possessing venomous snakes.

As part of a plea deal, he surrendered the snakes and his sentence of just under a year in jail was suspended, according to local media.

Early on Sunday, a Facebook page had been set up to collect donations on behalf of the Coots family. The first message read that "Brother Jamie did not have any insurance" and listed an address where "donations for his burial and his family" could be mailed.