Magic is one of the oldest forms of performing art in the world. We all love the thrill that comes with good magic. Since time as old as humanity, magicians have entertained and fascinated their audiences throughout history. Through carefully orchestrated tricks, effects or illusions, great magicians manage to pull off seemingly impossible or superhuman feats effortlessly, by using natural means.
Apparently, magic has become more popular and lucrative in this age with advancements in technology and media. Magicians seem to be pulling fortunes out of their hats while wowing their audiences. Although the richest and most famous magicians may not necessarily be the best, it is difficult to be a truly great magician and not be rich and famous. More often than not, the two are mutually inclusive.
Who are the greatest magicians ever?
After careful research, we have compiled the list of the greatest magicians ever in the world, from famous illusionists like Criss Angel, endurance artists like David Blaine to the greatest escapist of all times, Harry Houdini. However, If you disagree with any name on this list, don’t hesitate to your grievance known in the comment section below.
10. David Blaine
Born in 1973, David Blaine is a famous American magician, illusionist and endurance artist who has set and broken many world records of high-profile feats of endurance. He has re-invented how magic is consumed on television by rather focusing on spectator reactions instead of the performer, making audience watch audience. The result is phenomenal. According to the New York Daily News, “Blaine can lay claim to his own brand of wizardry. The magic he offers operates on an uncommonly personal level.”
Blaine now focuses on his elaborate public imprisonments, ditching card tricks and illusions. These include being entombed inside six tons of ice for three days, getting buried alive underneath a 3-ton water-filled tank for seven days in New York, and being suspended in a glass box over the Thames for 44 days in 2003. About 75,000 people visited the site, including Harry Houdini’s niece, Marie Blood, who said, “My uncle did some amazing things, but he could not have done this.” Although Blaine’s endurance feats are impressive, his most astonishing trick remains his pavement levitation, his intense manner adding to the disquiet of his audience
9. Apollo Robbins
Forbes has described him as “an artful manipulator of awareness.” Apollo Robbins is an American sleight-of-hand artist, who prefers to describe himself as a “gentleman thief and deception specialist.” Born in Plainview, Texas in 1974, the soft-spoken American sleight of hand artist is the world’s finest theatrical pickpocket. He magically takes people’s monies from their wallets, jewellery from their necks, wrists and fingers and then returns them in the most mind-boggling ways.
In 2001, Robbin’s pickpocketing abilities gained notoriety after he intriguingly stole from Jimmy Carter’s secret service agents. In a quick moment, he had pickpocketed former President Carter’s itinerary and the keys to his motorcade, among other items. The feat turned him into a sought-after magician by several law-enforcement organizations who wanted to learn from his impressive techniques. In a fascinating profile in The New Yorker about Robins, he is said to be working with the US Department of Defence to help them learn how magicians hack our brains for the purpose of teaching cognition and deception to military personnel.
8. Penn and Teller
Having performed together since the late 1970s as magicians and entertainers, Penn Jillette and Teller incorporate elements of comedy and magic into their acts. The talented American duo who are vocal proponents of rational thinking has been known to challenge pseudoscience and the paranormal. Penn and Teller particularly enjoy exposing nonsense in all its forms and taking on false advertisings at every chance they get.
However, this popular pair is highly regarded illusionists with mind-boggling tricks and occasionally stomach-churning feats that sometimes involve nail guns, hanging themselves or catching bullets in their teeth. These are the extraordinary stunts that place them with the greats in the world of magic.
7. Derren Brown
Derren Brown is an English illusionist and mentalist who has produced several shows both for the stage and for television since his 2000 debut show, Mind Control. The “psychological illusionist” as he calls himself, was a Christain who turned atheist and uses magic to expose on religious con artists and assorted types of quacks. Brown makes it clear that he uses purely psychological means to achieve his magic tricks aimed at debunking those who claim to have supernatural power.
Born in 1971, the acclaimed Mentalist has become synonymous with the art of psychological manipulation as he been able to redefine magic for intelligent and modern audiences. Derren has convinced middle-managers to commit an armed robbery in the street, stuck viewers to their couches, successfully predicted the National Lottery, motivated a shy man to land a packed passenger plane at 30,000 feet, and hypnotised a man to attempt assassinating Stephen Fry. However, it was his Russian Roulette stunt, in which he was able to guess which barrel contained a bullet that cemented his reputation one of the greatest magicians of all time. It was watched by over 3.3 million viewers.
6. Ricky Jay
American stage magician, Ricky Jay is reputed to be one of the finest card handlers the world has ever known. The former Wall Street accountant, barman and professional gambler do not have more than a deck of cards for pops, but that is all he needs to dazzle his audience. He simply prefers to do it the old-fashioned way. David Blaine says he is his greatest teacher. For others, Jay is the master hoaxer.
In addition to sleight of hand, Jay has a reputation for his card tricks, card throwing, memory feats, and stage patter. Ricky Jay is also an actor who is best known for roles in his friend David Mamet’s films and for playing Eddie Sawyer, who runs the saloon’s gaming tables in the HBO series Deadwood.
5. Doug Henning
Douglas James Henning was born on 3rd May 1947 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He is considered as one of the most famous illusionists of 1970’s and 80’s. He first showcased his talent when he was 14 years of age at a birthday party and from then onwards he gained a lot of appreciation and fame by his enchanting magic tricks. He soon became a great entertainer and a famous face at parties and television shows. He was also nominated for ‘Tony Award’ and ‘Emmy award’. However, this great magician passed away at an early age of 52 on 7th February 2000 after suffering from cancer.
4. The Great Lafayette
Born in Munich in 1871, The Great Lafayette (real name Sigmund Neuberger) was the most famous and highest-paid magician of his time. The flamboyant entertainer who was known for his excellent quick change routine and dramatic illusions like his “Lion’s Bride” was very popular with his audiences. He lived an eccentric kind of lifestyle. The greatest object of his affection was Beauty, a dog gifted to him by a fellow illusionist, Harry Houdini. He pampered Beauty with a life that only a few humans can only dream of and was inconsolable when the dog died in 1911.
Four days after Beauty’s death, Lafayette met his untimely death in Empire Palace Theatre at Edinburgh. He was performing his signature illusion, The Lion’s Bride when a stage lamp fell and set the elaborate on fire as he took his final bow. Lafayette and 10 members of his crew died in the inferno. His body was only recognized by the elaborate costume he wore during the performance and his body was sent to the cemetery for final burial arrangements. But while digging through the rubble, people found another body that had expensive rings Lafayette liked to wear. That’s how Lafayette pulled off one final trick, switching places with his doppelganger. He was buried next to Beauty.
3. Criss Angel
Criss Angel is an enigmatic rock’n’roll styled American magician. A three-time winner of the Magician of the Year award by Magic Castle Hollywood, Criss is an angel of a different sort. You are not likely to see him pulling bunnies out of his hat. This daredevil would rather go for stunts that require him to shackle himself to the side of an explosives-filled burning car or dangling from a moving helicopter with fish lines hooked on his skin, making his spectators cringe with fear for his life. More than any other magician in history, Criss Angel has used various cable and network televisions to reach the world with his magic and entertainment. He is one of the most commercially successful magicians ever.
The International Magicians Society has named Angel as the Magician of the Decade and Magician of the Century. Alongside his career as a magician, he was the lead singer for Angeldust, his industrial band. He also authored the book Mindfreak: Secret Revelations. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest magicians to ever walk the earth.
2. Harry Houdini
No list of the greatest magicians in history is complete without a mention of the great Harry Houdini. He was born in Budapest, Hungary, on March 24, 1874, and became renowned for his uncanny ability to escape any confinement. This talented Hungarian-American escapologist was “the world’s handcuffs king and prison-breaker”. Houdini became famous as he perfected his stunts and repeatedly escaped from the most difficult police handcuffs, jails and shackles. He even earned certificates from various wardens for his escape feats from their prisons.
For more than 30 years of his career, Harry Houdini fascinated thousands of his fans with his brave stunts and superhuman escapes. He jumped off bridges in handcuffs and shackles on his legs, escaped from sealed milk cans filled with water and a “Chinese Water Torture Cell” suspended upside down by his ankles, totally submerged. He was buried alive in chains in another stunt only to emerge to the surface from the 6-foot grave (disoriented). A poster of him reads, “Nothing on earth can hold Houdini a prisoner.” His spectacular illusions and sensational escape act put Houdini in a rightful seat with the greatest magicians of all time. After making name for himself in America, Harry toured Europe, before his death on October 24, 1926, at the age of 52. He died of peritonitis (from a ruptured appendix).
1. David Copperfield
Born on 16th September 1956, illusionist David Copperfield undoubtedly the greatest of the greatest magicians the world has ever known. With a massive global fan base, this talented and charismatic magician is a complete entertainer. The prestigious U.S. Library of Congress has named this 11 Guinness world records holder a Living Legend. He is also the first living magician to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. According to Forbes, Copperfield is the most commercially successful magician in human history, with an estimated net worth of $800 as at 2013.
In his career of over 40 years, Copperfield has made the Statue of Liberty disappear, levitated over the Grand Canyon and even walked through the Great Wall of China among other dazzling feats. But his fame and success are not just all tricks. Copperfield explained, “Secrets and lots of hard work go into this.”