. . By T.V. Antony Raj .
In the world of modern magic for every magician who uses his powers of conjuring for entertainment, there are countless fortune-tellers, psychics, cardsharps, faith healers, scam-artists, con men, and what not that use those same powers for thievery and evil gains.
However, among those magicians making a living in the realm of the supernatural are gentlemen like James Randi: a small, aging, merry magician with wizard white hair and sporting a Santa Claus beard.
James “The Amazing” Randi, the Canadian-American stage magician, and scientific skeptic best known for his challenges to paranormal claims and pseudoscience, and self-proclaimed: “charlatan” has traveled the world as a magician, escape artist, author, lecturer.
Randall James Hamilton Zwinge was born in Toronto, Ontario, on August 7, 1928. He took up magic after seeing Harry Blackstone, Sr., and reading several books on magic while spending 13 months in a body cast following a bicycle accident. As a student Randi often skipped classes, and after dropping out of high school at 17 he joined a traveling carnival. He practiced as a mentalist (a psychic entertainer) at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition and wrote for Montreal’s tabloid press.
In his twenties, he posed as a psychic to prove that the so-called psychics actually hoodwinked the public doing simple tricks. For a short period he wrote an astrological column in the Canadian tabloid Midnight under the name “Zoran,” simply by collecting astrology columns from other newspapers and pasting them randomly into a column of his own.
In his thirties, Randi worked in Philippine night clubs and in various cities in Japan.
He saw many tricks presented as supernatural. One of those was the “one-ahead” technique or “Billet reading” used by an evangelist to convince churchgoers of his so-called ‘divine powers.’
In 1946, Randi began his career as a professional stage magician under his real name, Randall Zwinge which he later dropped in favour of “The Amazing Randi”. Early in his career, he performed many escape acts from jail cells and safes. On February 7, 1956, he appeared live on The Today Show, where he remained for 104 minutes in a sealed metal coffin submerged in a hotel swimming pool and broke Houdini’s record of 93 minutes.
Years later, he became an international celebrity with his astounding feats of magic, escape stunts, sleight of hand, acts of Mentalism, and other paranormal feats.
According to the dictum “it takes a thief to catch a thief,” Randi dedicated his life to expose frauds and cheats who prey on people’s beliefs in the supernatural and psychic abilities. Even now at 84, he continues his mission with boundless energy and wit of a vaudevillian. He has indeed a cult following him around the globe.
Randi is the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) that sponsors “The One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge” offering a prize of US $1,000,000 to eligible applicants who can show evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties.
Randi got the idea for the challenge during a radio panel discussion when a parapsychologist challenged him to “put [his] money where [his] mouth is.” In 1964, Randi started offering $1,000 as prizes, and after sometime he raised the prize amount to $10,000. Later, Lexington Broadcasting wanted Randi to do a show called the $100,000 Psychic Prize, so they added $90,000 to the original $10,000 offered by Randi. Eventually, in 1996, one of his friends, Internet pioneer Rick Adams donated US $1,000,000 for the prize. So far, about a thousand people have taken the challenge. However, not even one has been successful.
Uri Geller (born December 20, 1946) is a magician, television personality, and self-proclaimed psychic known for his trademark television performances of spoon bending and other supposed psychic effects. Geller’s career as an entertainer has spanned almost four decades, with television shows and appearances in many countries. Throughout his career, critics have accused Geller of using simple conjuring tricks to simulate the effects of psychokinesis and telepathy. Geller used to call his abilities “psychic” but now prefers to refer to himself as a “mystifier” and entertainer.
Geller has claimed his feats are the result of paranormal powers given to him by extraterrestrials.
As expected James Randi is one of Geller’s most prominent critic and has accused Geller repeatedly of trying to pass off magic tricks as paranormal displays. Randi often duplicated Geller’s performances using stage magic techniques. He and other critics such as Richard Feynman and Martin Gardner have accused him of using his techniques fraudulently outside the entertainment business.
Richard Feynman, winner of Nobel Prize for physics was once an amateur magician. In 1985, he wrote in his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! that Geller was not able to bend a key for him and his son.
Geller is well-known for making predictions on sporting events. Randi and the British tabloid newspaper The Sun demonstrated the teams and players Geller chose to win most often lost. A follower of Randi called it “The Curse of Uri Geller.”
Peter Popoff (born July 2, 1946), a German American televangelist, and self-proclaimed prophet and faith healer conducts revival meetings. He has a national television program. He rose to prominence in the 1980s. During his appearances at religious conventions Popoff routinely and accurately stated the home addresses and specific illnesses of the members in his audience, a feat many believed as divine revelation and “God-given ability.”
In 1986 when members of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) reported that he was using a radio to receive messages, Popoff denied the allegation and said the messages came from God. Undaunted the skeptic groups across the United States printed and handed out pamphlets explaining how Popoff’s executed his feats. Popoff retorted telling tell his audience that the pamphlets were “tools of the devil”.
James Randi and his assistant Steve Shaw researched Popoff by attending revival meetings across the country for months. Randi asked investigator and crime scene analyst Alexander Jason for technical assistance. Jason used a high-tech (at the time) computerized scanner during a Popoff appearance in San Francisco. Jason identified and intercepted the radio transmissions sent by Peter’s wife Elizabeth Popoff who was backstage reading information which she and her aides had gathered from earlier conversations with members of the audience. Popoff listened to these promptings with an in-ear receiver and repeated what he heard to the crowd.
Randi then planted impostors in the audience, including a man dressed as a woman pretending to have uterine cancer, of which “she” was “cured.”
Alexander Jason produced video segments showing several Popoff “healings.” These shown on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show precipitated the decline of Popoff’s popularity and viewing audiences. In September 1987, sixteen months after the Carson airing, Popoff declared bankruptcy, with more than 790 creditors having claims against him.
According to Fred M. Frohock, “the case of Peter Popoff is one of many egregious instances of fake healing.” In the following video Randi demonstrates how ‘psychic’ Uri Geller bends spoons and other magic tricks; funny moments of Uri squirming in The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; fake healing by Peter Popoff etc.
Sylvia Browne (born on October 19, 1936), an American author who describes herself as a psychic and spiritual medium has made several appearances on Larry King Live. She also hosts her own hour-long show on Hay House Radio, discussing paranormal issues and giving callers advice in her role as a psychic.
In 1992, Browne convicted of investment fraud and grand theft caused many controversies with her predictions and claims. Reports of her failed predictions appeared in several newspapers.
She has had a long running feud, with many of her critics including Randi. On March 6, 2001, when Larry King asked Sylvia Browne if she would take the one million challenge she agreed. On September 3, 2001, Randi appeared with Sylvia Browne on Larry King Live and Browne again accepted the challenge. However, she refused the testing phase. So, Randi kept a clock on his website recording the weeks that had passed since Sylvia accepted the challenge without following through. Eventually, Randi replaced the clock with text stating “over 5 years.”
Rosemary Altea (born in England in 1946) a self-proclaimed psychic medium has appeared on many televisions shows: Larry King Live, The Oprah Winfrey Show “20/20,” “Unsolved mysteries”, “Prime Time, with Diane Sawyer,” “Politically Incorrect,” “Leeza,” “The View,” and “Fox and friends”. She also appeared in the first episode of Penn & Teller’s show Bullshit!, where Mark Edward exposed her.
On January 26, 2007 Altea appeared on Larry King Live with skeptic James Randi. Randi challenged her to take the one million challenge. She then refused to answer whether she would take the test.
On June 5, 2001, Randi and Altea met again Larry King Live, however, Altea refused to take the challenge, calling it “a trick”. Instead Altea, in part, replied “I agree with what he says, that there are many, many people who claim to be spiritual mediums, they claim to talk to the dead. There are many, people, we all know this. There are cheats and charlatans everywhere.” .
In the December 2003 issue of The Linking Ring, the monthly publication of The International Brotherhood of Magicians, in Points to Ponder: Another Matter of Ethics, p. 97, states, “Perhaps Randi’s ethics are what make him Amazing” and “The Amazing Randi not only talks the talk, he walks the walk.“
- An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi Story (kickstarter.com)
- James Randi (en.wikipedia.org)
- Uri Geller (en.wikipedia.org)
- Peter Popoff (en.wikipedia.org)
- Sylvia Browne (en.wikipedia.org)
- Rosemary Altea (en.wikipedia.org)
- Telepathic Girl Baffles Researchers with Her Ability to Read Minds (illuminutti.com)