James Randi–better known by the moniker “The Amazing Randi”–has died. He was 92 years old.
Randi rose to fame thanks to his frequent appearances on The Tonight Show where he performed magic opposite Johnny Carson. Randi also gained a reputation as a master illusionist through appearances on other television programs, including one notable instance where he stayed underwater in a swimming pool sealed in a coffin for 104 minutes, beating the previous record held by Harry Houdini.
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Later in his career, Randi became something of a psychic buster, duplicating the supposed miracles of faith healers and other paranormal gurus. Notably, Randi debunked the “healings” of German televangelist Peter Popoff in 1986. Popoff claimed to have received personal information about his congregants sent by God. Randi showed a video on The Tonight Show of Popoff doing just that…while his wife fed him details via a hidden radio transmitter. The congregation had filled out prayer cards prior to the incident, which Popoff’s wife used to provide her husband with the information. Randi also had a longtime rivalry with Israeli psychic Uri Geller. Randi managed to duplicate Geller’s signature feat of bending spoons, and in one notable Tonight Show appearance, blocked Geller from performing any magic at all.
James Randi came out as gay in 2010, having been moved by the film Milk and the ongoing fight over marriage equality. “I’m gay,” he wrote on his blog. “From some seventy years of personal experience, I can tell you that there’s not much ‘gay’ about being homosexual. 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 life-style. At no time did I choose to adopt any protective coloration, though; my cultivation of an abundant beard was not at all a deception, but part of my costume as a conjuror.”
He also revealed that he had been in a romantic relationship with his longtime assistant, Jose Alvarez, since 1986; the pair married in 2013.
Randi died of age-related causes October 20, 2020, having survived colorectal cancer and a stroke. For his contribution to entertainment–and to debunking charlatans–we will miss him.