It is commonly said that magic is all around us. While that might be true in the metaphorical sense, the ‘literal’ display of magic through illusion and the perceived allusion to the supernatural is more than enough to get people excited. There is a sense of elation that comes with seeing magic acts that are unexplainable to the untrained eye. As humans, we find the unexplainable to be exhilarating. While we may not have real-world magic, we do have Las Vegas shows to watch illusionists give us the second best thing. There are many magicians out there who have perfected the art of creating illusions that can make even the most logical man gasp in awe and we have decided to celebrate those magicians with this list of most famous magicians and illusionists that ever existed.
It is important to note that the list below does not appear in any particular order
1. Harry Houdini
There is a certain level of success one has to attain in their craft for their name to become an expression. If you’ve ever heard the expression ‘To Pull a Houdini’, then you’ve probably also heard of Harry Houdini.
Before Now You See Me debuted on the big screen and made everyone dream of becoming a Robin Hood magician, Harry Houdini made magic cool and popular. He is regarded as the greatest escape artist in human history. His legend involves life-threatening magic and public stunts. One of his popular stunts included a challenge to the local police to have him locked up in a death device. While everyone waited anxiously anticipating of his death, Houdini slipped into the audience, watching several minutes before revealing his escape. He is also known for a logic-defying escape from a handcuff that took 5 years to design and construct; in front of 4000 spectators and 100 journalists, Houdini escaped to a crescendo of applause.
He is also known for pulling disappearing acts of illusion, which is where the aforementioned ‘to pull a houdini’ comes from, a slang-phrase meaning ‘to disappear’.
2. David Copperfield
David Copperfield is another legendary magician whose name has risen in greatness to the pages of everyday vocabulary. Being an Illusionist or a Magician is not exactly the most lucrative of professions. Only the best of the best get to reap the financial rewards that the industry has to offer and David Copperfield, through his creative infusion of storytelling into his magic, has been able to reach the summit of commercial success. He is widely regarded as the most commercially successful magician in history. With 11 Guinness World Records to his name, Copperfield is no longer just a magician, he is an icon of his generation. He has also received recognition from the US Congress, all fitting rewards for a man who is considered one of the most famous magicians and illusionists that ever existed.
3. Dante The Magician (Harry August Jansen)
While Las Vegas might be known for its magic shows and seemingly providing a home for acclaimed magicians, several magicians have made a name for themselves across the world. Harry August Jansen who was more popularly known as Dante The Magician was one of those who made a name for himself outside Las Vegas.
His death was described as the end of the golden age of magic, thereby signifying his influence and greatness that was beyond the rudimentary expectations of commercialized magic. Dante was a world traveler who took his act all over the world, entertaining people and making people believe in the impossible. His acts cut across film and television, bringing magic to the screens of millions of people. His magic acts included the famed expression “Sim Sala Bim”. The Danish magician died on the 15th of June, 1955.
4. Lance Burton – Most Famous Magicians And Illusionists That Ever Existed
Nothing says ‘I’m great at what I do’ than being contracted to perform by Las Vegas hotels and casinos for 13 years. The city which is known for finding new and imaginative ways to help people part with their money held on to Lance Burton for 13 years. The magician performed for over 5 million people in over 15,000 shows. He was named the Magician of the Year by the Academy of Magical Arts twice. Part of Lance’s magical greatness was crafting a series of acts that were family friendly. His ability to design illusions and magic that were both exciting to adults and children made him one of the greatest magicians in history.
5. David Blaine
Writing a list of the top 10 most famous magicians and illusionists that ever existed and not including David Blaine would only lead to an incomplete list. Magic and Illusion is expressed in different forms. Some have the basic level skill of pulling rabbits out a hat, while some go for death-defying acts like being buried alive for a week; David Blaine is known for the latter.
The magician made a name for himself by starting with street-level magic before moving on to death-defying acts which have led to his name being considered one of the greatest magicians of all time.
Known in the magic world as an endurance artist, some of his impressive acts include standing on a 100-foot pillar without a harness for 35 hours, going 44 days in a glass box without food or any form of nutrients, getting buried alive for a week, getting hung upside down for 60 hours. His feats have made it into the Guinness Book of Records. David’s style has also helped evolve the reputation of magic from being entertainment for commoners to being the entertainment option for the wealthy and successful.
6. Criss Angel (Cristopher Nicholas Sarantakos)
If there was ever a time in modern history when people thought of performance magic as magic out of the pages of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, it was as a result of the acts of Criss Angel. The edgy magician has lent himself to the dark arts through his goth fashion choices and his dangerous and deadly tricks. He is considered a highly provocative magician whose notable acts include setting himself on fire, suspending himself in the air and turning coffee into cockroaches. While his fame and style might be controversial and paint a negative picture of what performative magic is, it has brought a lot of fame to the profession. He has been named Magician of the Decade and Magician of the Century by the International Magicians Society.
7. Harry Blackstone Snr. – Most Famous Magicians And Illusionists That Ever Existed
Like any profession, magicians are inspired by older generations and each new act is always an improvement on the act or idea of an older magician. Some of today’s popular acts were first attempted and executed by magicians like Harry Blackstone Snr whose fame lived through World War II era. Harry is famous for creating some of the defining acts of magicians in the modern day, such as the ‘sawing a woman in half’ act. At the height of his career, he performed for the United States Organization Inc (USO) in the middle of World War II. During his career, he is estimated to have pulled out 80,000 rabbits from hats and sleeves. At the time of his death, he was the most awarded magician in history.
8. Penn & Teller
Magicians are usually known to work with an assistant. But when they are working with another magician, it takes things to a new, more exceptional level. That is the story of Penn & Teller, two magicians who have been performing together since the 1970s. They currently hold the record for the longest show in Las Vegas. The magical duo, like David Copperfield, have infused comedy into their acts, balancing the shock violence that characterizes their acts with humor. They have been known to perform several death-defying acts like hanging upside down on a cushion of spikes, getting submerged in a tank of water and ran over by a tractor. The two also run a show on television called Penn & Teller: Fool Us. One half of the duo, Teller is also an actor who has appeared on shows like The Big Bang Theory.
9. Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin
When Harry Houdini, one of the most famous magicians and illusionists that ever existed, picks his stage name after you, then you really must be ‘magical’. Many people don’t realize this but Harry Houdini’s birth name is actually Erik Weisz, he adopted his stage name ‘Harry Houdini’, in honour of Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, a 19th-century French magician who is credited as one of the leading names in modern magic. Jean’s trick, the infamous Second Sight, where he randomly touched objects and a blindfolded assistant described them in detail is considered one of the coolest and audience endearing tricks in history.
10. Apollo Robbins
One of the most common tricks in magic is the sleight of hands. While it may not seem comparable to the extravagance that acts like that of Criss Angel or David Copperfield carries, it creates intimacy between the magician and the audience, making the show a more personal experience. It is this act that Apollo Robbins has perfected, so much that he is referred to as the “Gentleman Thief”. One of his famous acts includes stealing from President Jimmy Carter’s Secret Service agents. He has drawn the interest of law enforcement agencies who have contracted him to train them against real thieves. He has featured on many TV Shows, including Brain Game, The View and Real Hustle. If there’s anyone who deserves a place on our list of most famous magicians and illusionists that ever existed, it’s Apollo Robbins.