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James Randi, the magician who escaped from jail cells, underwater coffins and straitjackets before becoming a scientific skeptic bent on debunking those who peddle in the paranormal and supernatural, has died. He was 92.
Randi died Tuesday “due to age-related causes,” according to a post on the James Randi Educational Foundation website.
In a Twitter post, Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller called Randi “our inspiration, mentor and dear friend.” He appeared on occasion on the duo’s Showtime doc series Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
In 1956, The Amazing Randi appeared live on the Today show, surviving for 104 minutes in a sealed metal coffin submerged in a swimming pool to better a record held by Harry Houdini. Two decades later, he escaped from a straitjacket while suspended upside-down over Niagara Falls.
The Toronto native also was a regular on the 1960s New York kids show Wonderama, played a dentist and an executioner on Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies concert tour in the ’70s, appeared as himself on a 1978 episode of Happy Days and wound up on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson more than 30 times.
Randi gave up magic and for several decades dedicated his life to exposing frauds. As such, he was the subject of An Honest Liar, a 2016 installment of the PBS documentary series Independent Lens.
“I’m a liar, a cheat and a charlatan,” Randi told The New York Times in 2001, “but at least I know it.”
— Penn Jillette (@pennjillette) October 21, 2020
Born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge on Aug. 7, 1928, Randi dropped out of high school and left home at 17 to join a carnival. Much like Houdini before him, he could escape from ropes, handcuffs, leg irons, straitjackets, caskets, cages and blocks of ice. He also could levitate women and bend forks with his mind.
As Jillette put it in An Honest Liar, Randi’s love of magic made him resent anyone applying illusionist techniques for illegitimate purposes like preying on gullible people, and he feuded with Uri Geller — famously torpedoing the self-proclaimed psychic’s 1972 appearance on The Tonight Show — and evangelist Peter Popoff. He went on to co-found what is known as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
His James Randi Educational Foundation offered $1 million to anyone able to demonstrate a supernatural ability under scientific testing criteria agreed to by both sides.
Survivors include his longtime partner, Deyvi Peña.
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