The year 2020 has even more terrible news to bring to us this week, as world-famous magician and escapologist James Randi has passed away. Known professionally as The Amazing Randi, Randi has been described by his contemporaries as a “latter-day Houdini.” According to a post on the James Randi Educational Foundation’s official website, Randi passed away on Tuesday, Oct. 20 due to age-related causes. “He had an Amazing life. We will miss him,” the post reads. He was 92 years old.
A native of Toronto, Canada, Randi was born on Aug. 7, 1928. When a horrific accident suffered as a child left him in a body cast for over a year, Randi spent a lot of time reading about magic, developing a taste for becoming a performer. As a high school dropout, Randi performed in a carnival roadshow and later worked as a mentalist and astrologer.
By the time he was an adult, Randi was working professionally as a magician and escapologist. This was when he gave himself the moniker of The Amazing Randi, making himself famous for his seemingly-impossible escape acts. In 1956, he appeared on Today for a stunt that saw him submerged in a sealed metal coffin at the bottom of a swimming pool for 104 minutes — breaking the previous record set by Harry Houdini for 93 minutes. He is also the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation, which provides grants to non-profit groups that encourage critical thinking.
Along with his underwater record, Randi also holds the Guinness World Record for being encased in a block of ice for 55 minutes. He has earned many prestigious awards over the years as well, such as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Humanist Association and the first Richard Dawkins Award. He was also the subject of the acclaimed 2014 documentary An Honest Liar and appeared in many television shows over the years to speak about magic and skepticism.
Though Randi clearly had exceptional talent as an illusionist, he is also well established as a famous skeptic. After spending many years doing tricks and performances of his own, Randi began spending time investigating claims of paranormal phenomena. After embarrassing self-professed faith healer Peter Popoff on The Tonight Show in front of a national audience, he became one of the world’s most famous “debunkers.” In another incident, he went after illusionist Uri Geller, accusing him of fraud and deception in the book The Truth About Uri Geller.
Randi’s fans may also remember when the JREF sponsored the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. Eager to dispel the notion that any person claiming they have paranormal or supernatural abilities is truthful, Randi offered a prize of $1 million to anyone who could prove themselves to be legitimate. Randi left the offer as an open challenge between 1996 and 2015 before the former magician retired, and not one person managed to claim the prize during all those years.
At this time, we send our condolences to Randi’s husband, Deyvi Pe&ña, and everyone else mourning the loss of the legendary magician and skeptic. May he rest in peace. This news comes to us from the James Randi Educational Foundation.