When you think of a stage magician, the term “badass” usually isn’t the first word that comes to mind. You think of geeks in cheap tuxedos performing old card tricks and illusions, and it's not impressive. But there are some magicians who have managed to be pretty macho both onstage and off. Let’s meet them, shall we?
By the age of 13, magician Richard Turner was legally blind, wracked with asthma, and weighed just 68 pounds. But the iron will that helped him become one of the world’s leading stage illusionists gave him the strength to pursue karate and weightlifting, rising to the rank of sixth degree black belt. His fingertips are so sensitive that the United States Card Company keeps him on a retainer to evaluate the feel of all of their products.
With a last name that sounds suspiciously like “masculine,” British stage musician Jasper Maskelyne took the art of illusion onto the battlefield during World War II. He impressed his commanding officers by using a setup of mirrors to create the image of a German battleship on the Thames, and quickly started screwing with the Nazis by perpetrating all kinds of misdirection. His greatest accomplishment was concealing the entire city of Alexandria from bombers with fake buildings and lights three miles away. The image here is of him performing his famous razor blade swallowing act.
Long Tack Sam
In the early days of vaudeville, there were a number of Chinese stage magicians who rose to fame, and tops among them was Long Tack Sam. The magician and acrobat dazzled audiences throughout the early part of the 20th century and didn’t take any guff from anyone. An apocryphal story relates an occasion when a fellow performer tried to humiliate Sam by giving him a load of laundry to do on stage, only to get laid out by a Chinese uppercut for his troubles. An award-winning documentary and graphic memoir have been done about the life and mystery of China's greatest magician.
Comedy and magic are frequent bedfellows – it’s easier to pull the wool over someone’s eyes if they’re laughing, after all. New Jersey-born Jerry Sadowitz is widely regarded as one of the best closeup magicians in the world, but he’s also not afraid to rub an audience the wrong way. After a performance in Montreal he was knocked unconscious by an irate spectator, and he’s often punctuated tricks by spitting in the faces of audience members. That’s punk rock, y’all.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest patter men in the business, Ricky Jay has revitalized the card trick with his incredible sleight of hand feats. And if you cross him the wrong way, you should also know that his cards can be dangerous. Jay holds the Guinness World Record for high-speed card throwing, able to flick a playing card at 90 miles an hour, fast enough to cut into the rind of a watermelon from ten feet away.
While public opinion of David Blaine is divided, with some people impressed by his stunts and others thinking he’s a glory-seeking buffoon, you can’t deny that the man has pushed his body to the absolute limit. While most magicians rely on complicated props to sell their illusions, Blaine’s performances pit his body against the elements, whether he be imprisoned in a box of ice or poised on a narrow pole above New York’s Bryant Park.
Matt The Knife
Boston-born magician Matt the Knife shows us the darker side of the magician’s arts. When he was young, he used his facility for misdirection and sleight of hand to work as a professional con man and head up a pickpocketing ring, targeting casinos and even the Mafia. When crime got too hot for him, he flipped to the other side of the law, using his skills not only for performance but also as an anti-fraud expert. He also holds a dozen Guinness Book records that include underwater straitjacket escapes and sword-swallowing.
German-born magician Matthias Buchinger’s act wasn’t anything too spectacular – just well-executed card tricks, cup and ball illusions and the like. What made him earn the title of true badass was the fact that he was born without arms or legs. We’re not kidding: Buchinger managed his feats of sleight of hand without any hands. Even more impressive, the little dude got play like you wouldn’t believe, fathering as many as 70 kids!
Jonathan Pendragon and his wife Charlotte were one of the most impressive illusionist teams of recent years, performing complex and difficult tricks that dazzled audiences. Pendragon’s machismo comes from surviving a 2006 accident that should have killed any man. At his home, Pendragon fell onto a non-trick arrow, perforating his stomach, liver and heart. Not only did he live, he was performing just weeks later.