Boy's tale of visit to heaven working miracles at US box office
A PREACHER'S son who was close to death from a burst appendix recovered to surprise his parents with tales of the delights of heaven.
Colton Burpo told his father Todd that he saw angels and rainbows while unconscious on the operating table at the age of four.
He said that while visiting heaven he met John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary and sat at Jesus's knee.
His claims have been turned into a film, 'Heaven is for Real', which has become a hit across America and is to open in Britain next week.
Mr Burpo said he began to believe the heavenly tales when his son described watching him shouting in despair at God in an anteroom. The boy could not have known about his howls of anguish. Colton went on to recognise a photograph of a great-grandfather he had never met and talked about meeting a sister who had told him she had "died in their mother's tummy".
The family had never discussed the baby his mother Sonja lost to a miscarriage a year before Colton's birth. These details helped to convince them that Colton's claims were more than drug-induced hallucinations. Mr Burpo went on to write about his experiences.
The book, also called 'Heaven is for Real', became a bestseller, spending three years at the top of the charts. Now, 10 years after Colton's brush with death, it has been made into a film starring Greg Kinnear, who appeared in 'Little Miss Sunshine', as Todd Burpo.
Opening on Easter weekend, the movie was an instant hit, taking $22.5m (€16.25m) in its first three days, overshadowing 'Transcendence', a blockbuster starring Johnny Depp.
Not surprisingly, the film appears to have struck a particular chord in the Bible Belt of the American Mid-West.
But critics have warned against accepting too literally the boy's childlike visions.
Even some members of Mr Burpo's Baptist congregation in their home town of Imperial, Nebraska, were initially wary of his claims, but the family denies that they or anyone else coached Colton to come up with his extraordinary story.
Mr Burpo said: "It's not fiction at all, this is real and I want people to know that and be given hope".
Colton, now 14 and an aspiring musician, continues to believe fervently that he died and went briefly to heaven.
Though he likes the film, he says it hasn't captured the glories he saw. "They do a good job but they haven't experienced it like I have," he said. "Heaven is so much better than that." (© Daily Telegraph, London)