Legendary rodeo clown shares secret to his dangerous job

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The makeup, the funny costume and hat -- you wouldn't think there's any danger in being a clown, but in the rodeo there's no funny business for the men and women who suit up to protect cowboys from bucking bulls.

"They have no sense of reasoning. All they want to do is hit you or leave," said long-time rodeo clown Leon Coffee. "I've always been an adrenaline junkie."

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Coffee has been a rodeo clown since the early 1970's. He said he started out in high school to make a few extra bucks. The money was good; the adrenaline he got from the experience was even better.

"We are kind of like lifeguards of the pool. You never see a lifeguard until there's a problem," said Coffee.

There wasn't formal school or training to begin, Coffee said. His mistakes were his lessons, and some of them were painful. He said he's broken nearly every bone in his body. He sometimes has to take a hit from a bull to save a cowboy who is down. He said he remembers his worst injury; a blow to the head.

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"It was such a traumatic blow that my brain told my heart to stop beating. And I literally died five times in one night," said Coffee.

Coffee kept going. These days, you can find the 60-something-year-old ducking and hiding in a barrel.

"I'm the barrel man. I'm an island in a sea of sharks," said Coffee. "I've got to be out-of-the-way, and ready to get in the way if needed."

Coffee said despite what doctors have told him, he's going to keep returning to the arena. He said he's got more life-saving work to do.

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"God put me on earth to do two things that make people happy and help people out, and I can do both of that in that arena," said Coffee.

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