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22 October 2020 04:35

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James Randi Dies: ‘The Amazing Randi’ Performer And Paranormal Skeptic Was 92

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. The James Randi Educational Foundation confirmed the death, saying simply that its founder succumbed to "age-related causes" on Tuesday. Entertainer, genius, debunker, atheist ̶ Randi was them all. He began gaining attention not long after dropping out of high school to join the carnival. As the Amazing Randi, he escaped from a locked coffin submerged in water and from a straitjacket as he dangled over Niagara Falls.

Magical as his feats seemed, Randi concluded his shows around the globe with a simple statement, insisting no otherworldly powers were at play. "Everything you have seen here is tricks," he would say. The magician's transparency gave a glimpse of what would become his longest-running act, as the country's skeptic-in-chief. 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. Randi had bushy white eyebrows and beard, a bald head, 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. 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. Once, awaiting the chance to sift through the trash of a faith healer, Randi spent days in his car, eating Twinkies and drinking Pepsi. 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. 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 $1 million 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. 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 Aug. 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." 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. 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 2013, he married his longtime partner, Deyvi Pena, at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. He was the subject of a 2014 documentary, "An Honest Liar." 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. 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. 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. Born Randall James Zwinge in 1928, he entered show business as a teenager, touring with a carnival and working nightclubs in his native Toronto, Canada. Initially billed as The Great Randall: Telepath, he parlayed that name into a mind-reading act and a knack for predicting the future. Unlike many magicians and performers, Randi was not averse to letting fans know that he was a trickster, relying on subterfuge and slight of hand to pull off his tricks. As his career grew, adding escape artist to his bag of stunts, he grew increasingly worried about the people who refused to embrace the fact that it was all an act. Thus, even as his career blossomed into national prominence and frequent television appearances on TV talk shows and the children's show Wonderama, he also began a quest to prove to the masses that they were being deceived. Please enable cookies on your web browser in order to continue. The new European data protection law requires us to inform you of the following before you use our website: We use cookies and other technologies to customize your experience, perform analytics and deliver personalized advertising on our sites, apps and newsletters and across the Internet based on your interests. By clicking "I agree" below, you consent to the use by us and our third-party partners of cookies and data gathered from your use of our platforms. See our Privacy Policy and Third Party Partners to learn more about the use of data and your rights. In 1956, Randi appeared live on the "Today" show, surviving for 104 minutes in a sealed metal coffin submerged in a swimming pool at the Hotel Shelton in New York City to better a record held by his hero, Harry Houdini. Two decades later, he escaped from a straitjacket while suspended upside-down over Niagara Falls, according to The Hollywood Reporter. James Randi, the magician and paranormal debunker also known as "The Amazing Randi," died on Tuesday at the age of 92. The news was announced on Wednesday, October 21 via Randi's non-profit The James Randi Education Foundation. Randi died of age-related causes. He is survived by his longtime partner, Deyvi Peña. Born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge on Aug. 7, 1928, Randi dropped out of high school and left home at 17 to join a carnival and embark on a life as a magician. Like Harry Houdini before him, Randi could escape from ropes, handcuffs, leg irons, straitjackets, caskets, cages and blocks of ice. He gained widespread notoriety as an escapologist after a Today show appearance in 1956 where he survived for 104 minutes in a sealed metal coffin submerged in a swimming pool beating the record set by Houdini. Randi would go on to make numerous television appearances over the next few decades, performing on The Johnny Carson Show over 30 times. Unlike other magicians, Randi was honest about being a bit of a trickster, famously saying, "I'm a liar, a cheat and a charlatan, "but at least I know it," in an interview with the New York Times in 2001. He devoted a large part of his career to criticizing those who utilized illusionists techniques for what he considered illegitimate purposes, famously exposing self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller's 1972 appearance on The Tonight Show. He would eventually become one of the founding members of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and found the James Randi Educational Foundation, which at one point offered $1 million to "anyone able to demonstrate a supernatural ability under scientific testing criteria agreed to by both sides." "Goodbye to the truly Amazing James Randi, our inspiration, mentor and dear friend," wrote magician Penn Jillette in a social media tribute to the late Randi, who would often appear on Jillette's Showtime doc series Penn & Teller: Bullshit! "We will love you forever."