James Randi Dies: ‘The Amazing Randi’ Performer And Paranormal Skeptic Was 92

Bruce Haring
·3-min read

James Randi, a magician whose many TV appearances led him to a second career as a respected paranormal investigator, has died at 92. The James Randi Foundation confirmed his death in a tweet on Tuesday, saying he died of “age-related causes.”

Born Randall James Zwinge in 1928, he entered show business as a teenager, touring with a carnival and working nightclubs in his native Toronto, Canada. Initially billed as The Great Randall: Telepath, he parlayed that name into a mind-reading act and a knack for predicting the future.

Unlike many magicians and performers, Randi was not averse to letting fans know that he was a trickster, relying on subterfuge and slight of hand to pull off his tricks. As his career grew, adding escape artist to his bag of stunts, he grew increasingly worried about the people who refused to embrace the fact that it was all an act.

Thus, even as his career blossomed into national prominence and frequent television appearances on TV talk shows and the children’s show Wonderama, he also began a quest to prove to the masses that they were being deceived.

In 1964, during an appearance on a radio talk show, he offered $1,000 to anyone who could show scientific evidence of supernatural powers. Soon afterward, he began broadcasting his own national radio show dedicated to discussion of the paranormal.

Randi continued his money challenges, eventually increasing the funding to $10,000. But in 1973, he met a man named Uri Geller, an Israeli immigrant who claimed to be a mind-reader and telekinetic with the power to bend spoons. They battled over the legitimacy of Geller’s claimed talents, with the ultimate showdown being staged on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. Geller failed on that program under Randi’s watchful eye and his preparation of the stage crew, but it barely dented Geller’s career.

A frustrated Randi was prompted to form the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (Csicop), its works funded by donations and by sales of a new magazine, which became The Skeptical Inquirer. That launched Randi into a new phase of his career, traveling the globe as a debunker of everything from telekinesis to ghosts. He won a 1986 MacArthur Grant for his work, but legal battles with Geller took its toll, financially and personally, with Randi being forced to resign when his Csicop colleague asked him to stop pursuing his white whale Geller, as the legal costs were too much.

No memorial plans have been announced.

Penn Jillette, the host of TV’s Fool Us, remembered Randi in a series of tweets.

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