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The Amazing Randi, the gay magician who bested Houdini and embarrassed Uri Geller, dies aged 92

Josh Milton October 22, 2020
James 'The Amazing' Randi. (Larry Busacca/Getty Images for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival)

James 'The Amazing' Randi. (Larry Busacca/Getty Images for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival)

The Amazing Randi, the bearded and brilliant gay magician who traded his decades-long and award-winning career as an illusionist for a second act debunking the paranormal, has died aged 92.

Randi passed away Tuesday (October 20) “due to age-related causes”, according to a post on the James Randi Educational Foundation website.

Randi’s MO was simple – to dazzle and to amaze, but never to lie.

Throughout his career he escaped from: a straitjacket while dangling above Niagra falls, another while hanging from six stories above Broadway; a block of ice; a sealed coffin and a jail cell, to name a few – all well into his 50s.

In surviving 104 minutes inside a sealed coffin submerged in a pool while live on the Today show in 1956, he bested a record held by Harry Houdini.

Throughout it all he was transparent about his trickery, ending shows by telling audiences: “Everything you have seen here is tricks. There is nothing supernatural involved.”

He became most famous for disproving pseudoscience, and took aim at a number of illusionists including spoon-bender Uri Gellar.

In an infamous segment on The Tonight Show in 1973, Randi watched Geller struggle to twist metal keys and spoons. He said he had advised the show’s producers to ensure Geller had no access to the supplied props, with the incident igniting a decades-long feud between the two.

The Amazing Randi: A magician who did all he could to prove magic doesn’t exist.

Born August 7, 1928, there was only one moment in Randi’s life when a jail cell contained him.

Aged 15, he disputed a preacher’s claims of clairvoyance only for congregants to call the police, in what was an early taste for rebuking falsities.

A student so gifted that school administers asked him to only attend school for exams, a bored Randi eventually ditched education at 17 to join the circus, often invoking the master of sensational stunts, Harry Houdini, in his craft.

Touring 1940s Canada, he started as a mentalist before training as an escape artist, using his eye for science to craft perilous, palpitation-inducing acts.

The Amazing Randi peers out from the sealed coffin in which he will attempt to break his own endurance record of staying two hours under water. (Ron Burton/Getty Images)
The Amazing Randi peers out from the sealed coffin in which he will attempt to break his own endurance record of staying two hours underwater. (Ron Burton/Getty Images)

Randi’s about-turn came during a sundry stunt that turned awry. He was locked inside an outsize milk can and broke two of his vertebrae – enough was enough, he said.

“There comes a point,” Randi recalled in the 2014 documentary An Honest Liar, “where you just don’t want to see a little old guy getting out of a can.”

He penned dozens of books disputing everything from water dowsing to fortunetelling and co-founded the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

“I’m a liar, a cheat and a charlatan,” Randi told The New York Times in 2001, “but at least I know it.”

James Randi came out as gay aged 81.

Randi came out as gay – a term he said he “resents” but uses because it’s “recognised and accepted” – in 2010, aged 81. He said he was inspired to come out after watching the film Milk.

“From some seventy years of personal experience, I can tell you that there’s not much ‘gay’ about being homosexual,” he wrote in a blog post.

“For the first twenty years of my life, I had to live in the shadows, in a culture that was — at least outwardly — totally hostile to any hint of that variation of lifestyle.”

Randi married another man, José Alvarez, in 2013 when he was 85.

Alvarez, an artist who fled Venezuela to escape homophobic death threats, met Randi in a Fort Lauderdale public library in 1986.

He once posed as a spirit medium for a ruse drummed up by Randi to dupe the media.

More: James Randi, José Alvarez, The Amazing Randi

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