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What Magician Died On Stage?

What magician died on stage? This is a rather macabre subject, I know. Nonetheless, it is important that this be shared and discussed to reveal that professional magicians may – at times – ride an extremely fine line. How? By continually pushing the limits of their capabilities to produce seemingly impossible performances.

Like the famous daredevil – Evel Knievel – it is never about staying still but instead, it is about surpassing your limits. While this is undeniably an admirable trait to have, it is equally important to prioritise the safety of your team, your audience, as well as yourself.

As the desire to perform more extraordinary live stunts continues to increase throughout the globe every year, the subsequent increase in personal risk also rises in probability.

But do not take my word for it.  Listed below are several prominent professional magicians who had their lives tragically cut short whilst performing a dangerous routine.

Chung Ling Soo

William Ellsworth Robinson, under the stage name of Chung Ling Soo, tragically lost his life in 1918 whilst attempting his infamous bullet-catching trick. When people ask, what magician died on stage? The answer, the one who tried to catch a bullet is not all that surprising. Robinson had earned a reputation amongst his peers for being lazy with the maintenance of his props.  As such, he allowed gunpowder to accumulate in the second chamber of his pistol.  When fired, the blank round sparked a reaction which caused the second round to go off as well. It is claimed that as the pistol fired, it pierced Robinson’s chest who screamed, “Oh my God!  Something’s happened.  Lower the curtain!”.

Big yikes, Will Robinson.

Karr the Magician

South African escapist magician, Charles Rowan, performed under the moniker of “Karr the Magician”.  In 1930, he performed a seemingly routine trick where he would escape from a straightjacket as a speeding motorcar charged at him. Reports are unclear, but it is stated that a large-sized crowd – which included many young children – witnessed the car smash into Rowan at full speed. Not only did this, unfortunately, claim his life, but Rowan was struck by the right wheel which almost instantly severed one of his legs.

Black Herman

The story of Black Herman, aka Benjamin Rucker, is one of the most bizarre stories you will ever hear. Rucker was known for his incredible persona, convincing audiences that he could survive upwards of a week after being buried alive. Mortifying stuff! However, during a seemingly routine show in Kentucky in April 1934, the magician would suddenly suffer from a heart attack and collapse – dying onstage.  Many members of the audience applauded, believing that this was all part of his performance. Not one to miss an opportunity, Rucker’s assistant would later charge audience members a fee to observe the magician’s corpse and acknowledge that he was genuinely dead. Capitalism at it’s peak!

Washington Irving Bishop

Okay, this next story is not for the faint of heart.

Washington Irving Bishop was an American mentalist. He garnered a growing reputation as being rather adept at reading a person’s mind. What people did not know was that Bishop had – for years – been suffering from cataleptic fits. This in itself was not life-threatening, but would cause the man to seemingly relapse into a catatonic state. In 1889 whilst performing in New York City, the magician would suddenly collapse at the Lambs Club. Physicians would immediately go to work on his autopsy, declaring that Bishop had lost his life due to hysteria catalepsy – a neurotic disorder characterised by violent emotional outbreaks and disturbances of sensory and motor functions. It was only when his wife and mother showed up that they revealed the condition, screaming that the physicians had taken his life when carrying out the autopsy. Charges would eventually be brought to the doctors, but they were ultimately never convicted.

Here’s a lesson, children: if you are prone to having fits or outbursts, please ensure to have at least a considerable amount of people around you which are aware of the situation. The last thing anyone would want is to wake up to Dr. Frankenstein popping your chest open! Certainly not my idea of a good time.

In summary, when attempting any premise which possesses even a hint of danger involved, it is my immediate recommendation to avoid doing it at all costs. A producer offers you a million Pounds to take a round of machine gun fire whilst wearing a World War II vest?  Say thanks, but no thanks!  What’s the point in having all the money in the world when you won’t be able to spend it or bequeath it to someone else? Dark stuff, but be smart.

Tommy Cooper

If you were to ask modern day magicians to name what magician died on stage, they would probably say Tommy Cooper. Tommy Cooper is a comedy magician and mindreader and has influenced generations of magicians. Beyond this, his legendary act of performing magic tricks and pretending to fail can be seen influencing acts such as comedians and musicians. On April 15th 1984 Tommy Cooper took to the stage for the last time. It was on this day, Cooper was midway through his act on the London Weekend Television variety show and in front of 12 million viewers, he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Such was his unpredictable, off the wall comedy, that the audience laughed and applauded. Even people backstage thought it was part of the great magicians act. Sadly, the team soon realised what was happening, and the curtain fell for the very last time.

Something to look out for in our modern-day application is ensuring that your own performance does not go wrong. And if it does, how you may adapt and use it to flourish.

Care to know more?  Keep an eye on this space!