James Randi, a magician who later challenged spoon benders, mind readers and faith healers with such voracity that he became regarded as the country’s foremost skeptic, has died, his foundation announced. He was 92.
The James Randi Educational Foundation confirmed the death, saying simply that its founder succumbed to ‘age-related causes’ on Tuesday.
‘He had an Amazing life. We will miss him,’ the foundation wrote.
Entertainer, genius, debunker, atheist Randi was them all. He began gaining attention not long after dropping out of high school to join the carnival. He began his career in the 1940s as an illusionist and escape artist.
As the Amazing Randi, he escaped from a locked coffin submerged in water, a straitjacket as he dangled over Niagara Falls. In another feat, Randi escaped a straitjacket while being suspended over Broadway in Manhattan.
Magical as his feats seemed, Randi concluded his shows around the globe with a simple statement, insisting no otherworldly powers were at play.
James Randi (pictured in January 2016), a magician who later challenged spoon benders, mind readers and faith healers with such voracity that he became regarded as the country’s foremost skeptic, has died, his foundation announced. He was 92
He began gaining attention not long after dropping out of high school to join the carnival. As the Amazing Randi (left and right), he escaped from a locked coffin submerged in water and from a straitjacket as he dangled over Niagara Falls
‘Everything you have seen here is tricks,’ he would say. ‘There is nothing supernatural involved.’
The magician’s transparency gave a glimpse of what would become his longest-running act, as the country’s skeptic-in-chief. In that role, his first widely seen exploit was also his most enduring.
On a 1972 episode of ‘The Tonight Show,’ he helped Johnny Carson set up Uri Geller, the Israeli performer who claimed to bend spoons with his mind.
Randi ensured the spoons and other props were kept from Geller’s hands until showtime to prevent any tampering.
The result was an agonizing 22 minutes in which Geller was unable to perform any tricks. Geller sued Randi and for $15million in 1991 and lost.
Randi had bushy white eyebrows and beard, a bald head, and gold-rimmed glasses, and bounced his 5-foot-6 frame energetically, even in his final years.
He sought to disprove not just those who read palms and minds, but chiropractors, homeopaths and others he saw as predators seeking innocent people´s money.
Randi targeted those he saw as frauds with a tenacity and dedication he admitted was an obsession.
Magical as his feats seemed, Randi concluded his shows around the globe with a simple statement, insisting no otherworldly powers were at play. Randi is pictured during a stunt on September 4, 1955
Randi is seen crawling from an ice igloo after being entombed for 43-minutes and 8-seconds. The ice structure, made up of 100-pound ice cakes, measured approximately 4 feet, high, 3 feet wide, and 7 feet long
His efforts were reminiscent of those of his great predecessor Harry Houdini, who devoted large portions of his time to debunking spiritualists and their seances.
‘I see people being swindled every day by medical quackery, frauds of every sort, psychics and their hot lines, people who claim to be able to find lost children or to help them invest their money,’ Randi told The Associated Press in 1998. ‘I know they are being swindled because I know the methods being used.’
Once, awaiting the chance to sift through the trash of a faith healer, Randi spent days in his car, eating Twinkies and drinking Pepsi.
‘I suffer from this obsession that I have something important to do,’ he explained in a 2007 interview with The AP.
There were other coups for Randi: He once showed the messages television faith healer Peter Popoff claimed to be getting from God about his audience were actually coming from his wife through an earpiece.
Born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge in Toronto on August 7, 1928. He never earned a high school diploma or went to college but in 1986 was awarded a prestigious MacArthur fellowship, often known as a ‘genius grant’
But the vast majority of those he aimed to show were frauds were lesser known, lured to prove their abilities by the James Randi Educational Foundation.
Through that organization, Randi was guardian of a $1million prize he promised to give anyone who could prove either their own supernatural powers or the presence of a supernatural being.
His loudest detractors said they didn’t believe the money even existed, but Randi had the bank documentation. No one ever came close to collecting.
Randi gave up the day-to-day operation of his foundation in 2009 and retired in 2015.
Born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge in Toronto on August 7, 1928, Randi known by everyone simply by that surname had a nagging desire to question from a young age.
Academically, he said he was bored in school and teachers acknowledged he was prodigy far ahead of his peers.
He never earned a high school diploma or went to college but in 1986 was awarded a prestigious MacArthur fellowship, often known simply as a ‘genius grant’.
He spoke with certainty. While he said he never really questioned his beliefs, he acknowledged there was always a chance he was wrong.
‘I am probably right. But I’m always only probably right,’ he said. ‘Absolutes are very hard to find.’
For all the analysis Randi put into seemingly everything, he still found delight in observing magic he knew was a stunt or watching a film that was just fantasy. He talked about the crushing feelings of watching a friend die and spoke of the magic of love.
In 2010, he announced he was gay. In 2013, he married his longtime partner, Deyvi Pena, at a ceremony in Washington, DC. He was the subject of a 2014 documentary, ‘An Honest Liar.’
In 2010, Randi announced he was gay. In 2013, he married his longtime partner, Deyvi Pena, at a ceremony in Washington, DC. He was the subject of a 2014 documentary, ‘An Honest Liar’
Randi is seen with Bill Nye during a discussion about An Honest Liar at the PBS Winter TCA in January 2016 in Pasadena, California
Penn Jillette, a magician in the mold of Randi, mourned his friend on Twitter on Wednesday night, writing: ‘We will never forget that without Randi, there would not be Penn & Teller. It’s really that simple.’
Randi said he couldn’t help feeling angry that his targets always seemed to perform escape acts of their own, continuing to win new followers and earn checks he said were cashed at reality’s expense. He wanted to see frauds punished, but he recognized most people wanted to believe.
‘The true believers,’ he said, ‘will not pay any attention to evidence that does not show that they believe to be untrue.’
It was frustrating to Randi and fueled an underlying anger toward those he labeled frauds.
When he let his displeasure slip out, though, it often was mixed with wit, as when asked about his final wishes and how he’d like his ashes disposed.
‘My best friend is instructed to throw them in Uri Geller’s eyes,’ he said. ‘I’d like him to get an eyeful of my ashes. I think that would be appropriate.’
Randi had previously taught at New York University and at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey.
Entertainer, genius and DEBUNKER: James Randi exposed spoon benders, mind readers and faith healers
As part of James Randi’s life work, debunking spoon benders, mind readers and faith healers, during a two-hour television special that aired on June 7, 1989, called Exploring Psychic Powers, Randi examined several people claiming they had psychic capabilities:
Astrologer Joseph Meriwether
Meriwether had claimed that he was able to ascertain a person’s astrological sign after talking with them for a few minutes. During the show, he was presented with 12 people, each who had a different astrological sign. They were not allowed to tell Meriwether their sign or birth date or wear anything that could give him a hint. After speaking with each, Meriwether asked them to stand in front of the sign he believed was theirs. He got them all wrong.
Psychic, Barbara Martin
Martin said she could read auras around people and that the auras were visible at least five inches above each person. On the show, 10 people were hidden behind screens. She was tasked with predicting which screens hid volunteers by seeing their aura above. She stated that she saw an aura over all 10 screens, but people were behind only four.
Dowser, Forrest Bayes
Bayes believed he could detect water in a bottle inside a sealed cardboard box. During the show, Bayes was shown twenty boxes and asked which ones contained a water bottle. He selected eight boxes, but only five of the 20 boxes contained water. Of the eight he selected one had a water bottle and the other had sand, but it was not revealed whether any of the remaining six boxes contained water.
Psychometric psychic, Sharon McLaren-Straz
McLaren-Straz was said to be able to receive personal information about the owner of an object by handling the object. She was presented with items from 12 people during the show. Her task was to match keys and watches to their owners. She had to match nine out of 12 sets but only matched two.
Professional crystal healer Valerie Swan
During the show, Swan attempted to use extrasensory perception to identify 250 Zener cards, which meant that she had to guess which of the five symbols was on each one. She agreed that she had to be right on at least 82 cards during the show, but she guessed 50 right, which is no better than random guessing.