We all got into magic for different reasons, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of you reading this had your imagination sparked by one of the greats. I know I did.
Famous magicians hold a special place in all of our hearts, so to give them their fifteen minutes here on The Magic HQ, I wanted to compile a list of the most famous, most influential magicians that the world has ever seen.
1. Harry Houdini
Who would even dispute that Houdini is one of the most famous magicians ever?
Apart from just being extremely famous for his escape stunts (one of which literally almost cost him a nervous breakdown), Houdini was a Jewish immigrant from Hungary back in the late 1800s.
He starred in movies and even earned the right to be a pilot later on in life. Houdini is so famous that when someone disappears from our view, we’re quick to go “They pulled a Houdini.”
While acting didn’t really pay off for him, Harry Houdini succeeded in burying himself alive and clawing out and getting out of a ton of full-body locks within about an hour.
He was quick to sue those who imitated his stunts (rightfully so) and spent a lot of time exposing false illusionists who had little to no standards on what they performed.
Harry was born with a different name and drew inspiration from Jean Eugene Robert Houdin, where he built his name from.
There are several spellings of his original name, Erich Weiss (such as Erik Weisz). When he died, a bust was placed at his grave, which was extremely uncommon for any Jewish cemetery.
2. David Blaine
Who else remembers the suspension in England?
David Blaine may not be the greatest magician of all time, but he is certainly the greatest endurance artist.
He’s most known for spending 44 days suspended in a box in the air, which admittedly did not go over well with people nearby.
Blaine’s time has been spent on specials and street magic, including Frozen in Time, Revolution, Drowned Alive, and Beyond Magic.
He’s starting to phase out slightly, which is why he’s made appearances in private performances as of late.
He grew up in New York with his mother and father, where he saw a magician performing in the subway one day when he was just four years old.
It was basically the beginning of his interest in magic, and he’s spent his entire life devoted to it ever since.
3. David Copperfield
We’ve got another David in our midst.
Forbes has referred to him as the most commercially successful magician in history, and they very well might be right.
David Seth Kotkin, who later adopted the name David Copperfield based on a Charles Dickens novel, still holds the record for being the youngest magician appointed to the Society of American Magicians, which he joined when he was just twelve years old.
David’s early life basically started out with him finding a love of magic when he was ten, and then from there, he excelled at it exponentially.
He’s spent time in movies, such as roles of The Magician in the movie Terror Train, as well as tons of television appearances and specials.
In 2019, a film about his life titled The Personal History of David Copperfield was released.
While it didn’t do as well as people thought, it’s still the most commercially successful film about a real magician ever to date.
His greatest achievement came from flying on stage, and those secrets have yet to be revealed.
4. Criss Angel
Love him or hate him (and there’s a mixed review on this guy), he’s right up there with Blaine and Copperfield in terms of finesse and trickery.
Born Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos, Criss Angel stunned audiences with his show Mindfreak.
He’s gone on to sell out shows in Las Vegas, create magic kits for adults to get started, and continues to premiere in stage shows and specials from time to time.
While most of his career has settled down over recent years, his success spilled over into books, toys and internet information that divulged some of his secrets.
He’s been awarded as the Magician of the Year in 2001, ‘04, ‘05, 07’ and ‘08 by the International Magicians Society.
5. Penn and Teller
Who remembers the days of the HBO show Bullsh*t?
It was a fantastic program, where they ironically broke down a lot of paranormal mumbo jumbo and other superstitions.
Watching illusionists do this was wildly entertaining, and the show still does well on HBO’s streaming service.
But their expertise goes beyond television. Penn and Teller still do shows and have recently begun their own Masterclass where they explain a lot of trade secrets and how to become a magician (it’s definitely worth a look).
Penn Jilette and Raymond Teller have performed some truly fantastic stunts together, from catching bullets in their teeth to using nail guns and somehow not puncturing each other in the process.
It may be hard to believe, but at the time of writing this in 2020, Penn is 64 and teller is 71, yet their stage presence helps them maintain a somewhat younger aesthetic.
Their matching gray pinstripe suits are basically canon with their entire performance.
The man named Steven Frayne, who created the persona of Dynamo, is one of the more recent famous magicians of our time.
He’s mostly known for his show Dynami: Magician Impossible that ran for a few years in the UK, as well as other name-branded television shows, like Revealed and A-Z.
He actually received most of his notoriety from a show at Houdini’s Centenary Celebration in New York City back in 2001, where he caught the eye of a lot of people.
He wanted to keep that momentum going, so like anyone living in the 2000s, he decided to take his presence to the internet.
Dynamo moved to London and spent loaned money on camera equipment to build his persona and online personality.
There’s not as much history on him as you would see for some of these other magicians, but his illusionary skills continue to impress.
7. The Great Lafayette
Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a man by the name of Sigmund Neuberger stunned the world.
He raked in money and fame by the bucketful, and literally went down in history with a very dramatic death.
There are conspiracy theories surrounding his death, and if they are true, it means he pulled off one of the greatest feigns ever.
In 1911, the Empire Palace Theater caught fire with a full house witnessing Neuberger’s tricks. He was in the process of trading places with a real live lion when the fire broke out.
There are reports of his candles on stage being knocked over without anyone being near them, which ignited the fire.
He bowed. Like a champion, he bowed, and people thought it was all part of his act. The fire killed over ten people, and the theater burned up.
Because of the bodies and the lack of coronary reports and technology during that time, it’s impossible to know if any of those bodies were actually his or not.
It’s another great mystery, but he will forever be known as the most dramatic magician ever.
8. Siegfried and Roy
You just can’t ignore the greats.
Segfried and Roy were the reason that a lot of people travelled to Las Vegas in the first place, with their shows regarding white lions and white tigers at the forefront of their act.
Now in their old age, Siegfried and Roy have retired since the 2003 tiger mauling attack that nearly killed Roy. Their acts involved illusion as well as misdirection and star-studded displays.
While they aren’t revered as magicians so much as showmen, they still left audiences wondering “How did they do that?”, which is all of us magicians can really hope to achieve.
9. Harry Blackstone Jr.
Decades after his death in 1997, and we’re still revering this legend.
Not only did he perform magic with The Muppets, and not only did he use magic to teach mathematics to people, but Harry Blackstone Jr. was also a philanthropist in his later life.
He’s known to have donated the floating lightbulb, which was a craft of Edison, to the Smithsonian Institution.
There are also some personal accounts of his philanthropy in secrecy in California, where he lived for quite some time. Another point of his life is that he worked on the water show at SeaWorld.
This fantastic fellow was a Denmark-born magician, who traveled to America as a boy.
Better known as Harry August Jansen, he lived until the 1950s in California after achieving a long list of feats in his career.
Dante spent many years performing in various clubs across America. With his death, people believed we saw the golden age of magic come to an end.
11. Soul Mystique
This newer act premiered in the early 2000s, and was defined as one of the top ten magicians in 2008.
This iconic duo played a tribute to Siegfried and Roy, and also acted on Australia’s Got Talent in 2007 and 2012.
This duo originally combined talents in 1996, though there aren’t many public records of any of their acts during that time.
Gavin Skinner and Lydia Lim continue to act and perform as Soul Mystique as they gain popularity.
Some magicians have a hard time accepting their act, because it is primarily labeled as a quick change act.
Still, it’s a series of tricks that nobody knows how they do, and they have the showmanship to really pull all of it off beautifully.
They’re paired alongside Siegfried and Roy in terms of entertainment, but not in the likes of Copperfield or Houdini.
You Could be the Next Great Magician
Some are living, some are no longer with us, but they all have one thing in common—a legacy!
They’re all known for being influential, stunningly smooth magicians that gave us the incentive to start practicing magic for ourselves.
You could be the next one on a list like this. Once you know how to get started, you get the right beginning tools and props, and you develop your skills enough to start charging for it, you’re on the fast track for long-term success.