James Randi, the magician and paranormal debunker also known as “The Amazing Randi,” died on Tuesday at the age of 92. The news was announced on Wednesday, October 21 via Randi’s non-profit The James Randi Education Foundation. Randi died of age-related causes. He is survived by his longtime partner, Deyvi Peña.
Born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge on Aug. 7, 1928, Randi dropped out of high school and left home at 17 to join a carnival and embark on a life as a magician. Like Harry Houdini before him, Randi could escape from ropes, handcuffs, leg irons, straitjackets, caskets, cages and blocks of ice. He gained widespread notoriety as an escapologist after a Today show appearance in 1956 where he survived for 104 minutes in a sealed metal coffin submerged in a swimming pool beating the record set by Houdini. Randi would go on to make numerous television appearances over the next few decades, performing on The Johnny Carson Show over 30 times.
Unlike other magicians, Randi was honest about being a bit of a trickster, famously saying, “I’m a liar, a cheat and a charlatan, “but at least I know it,” in an interview with the New York Times in 2001. He devoted a large part of his career to criticizing those who utilized illusionists techniques for what he considered illegitimate purposes, famously exposing self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller’s 1972 appearance on The Tonight Show. He would eventually become one of the founding members of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and found the James Randi Educational Foundation, which at one point offered $1 million to “anyone able to demonstrate a supernatural ability under scientific testing criteria agreed to by both sides.”
“Goodbye to the truly Amazing James Randi, our inspiration, mentor and dear friend,” wrote magician Penn Jillette in a social media tribute to the late Randi, who would often appear on Jillette’s Showtime doc series Penn & Teller: Bullshit! “We will love you forever.”