One of the most highly renowned magicians of the 20th and 21st centuries, Eugene Burger shuffled off this mortal coil in August of 2017. While his spirit has moved on from this life, Burger’s influence on the world of magic continues.
Terminal cancer is what silenced magician Eugene Burger in this plane of existence at the age of 78. But, he took his forthcoming death with grace and humor.
“Now I am on the way to the ultimate capital-M Mystery of life,” the award-winning magician said of his terminal illness.
He once said: “I didn't choose magic... magic chose me.”
About Magician Eugene Burger
Eugene Burger was born on June 1, 1939, and died August 8, 2017. The friendly, engaging magician had a Santa Claus quality about him, with his long beard, bald head, and round wire-rimming glasses. (His website domain is actually “magicbeard.com.”)
With his commanding yet gentle voice and warm personality, he was a popular, sought after magician in stage shows as well as for television appearances around the globe.
While Burgen was based in Chicago, Illinois, he traveled extensively. Countries where Burgen appeared on TV to perform his special brand of magic included the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Belgium, Finland, and Japan.
Awards and Accolades for the Magician
His magic skills garnered him awards by the most prestigious magician societies, including Magic Castle in Hollywood, the International Magicians Society, and FISM (International Federation of Magical Societies).
The press also loved Eugene Burger. Magic Magazine dubbed Eugene Berger as one of the 100 most influential magicians of the 20th century. Chicago Magazine called the jolly magician “Chicago’s Best Magician” in their Best of Chicago Issue in 2003 when he was 64 years old.
“Burger’s magic is simply jaw-dropping,” wrote the L.A. Weekly.
Philosopher, Teacher, and Sought-After Speaker
Eugene Burger was more than just a magician. He actually went to Yale University and graduated from Yale’s prestigious Divinity School with a Bachelor of Divinity degree. He also had a degree in philosophy and taught college classes on the subject as well as comparative religion.
Burger also taught magic to other up-and-coming magicians. One of the places he taught frequently was the McBride Magic & Mystery School, located in Paradise, Nevada. Burger was named “Magic’s Mystical Guru” at the Nevada school. He is still listed on the McBride Magic & Mystery School website, and you can purchase some of his recorded teachings and books there.
Prolific Writer and Book Author
Over the span of his long career, Burger wrote many books about the craft of magic, a total of 15 bestsellers in the niche genre. The bearded magician also wrote a number of articles on the subject of magic. His books on the art of magic (as well as philosophy) included:
Magic & Meaning: Published in 1995, a book that looked at the intersection of magic, philosophy, and storytelling.
The Performance of Close-Up Magic: Published in 1987, this 134-page book provides insights on how to captivate an audience with close-up magic tricks.
The Experience of Magic: Published in 1989, this volume explores great themes in the history of magic and how to cultivate an enchanting, magical “experience” for the audience.
Spirit Theater: Published in 1986, this is a fascinating book about the history of seances and how they were performed in the 19th century.
Mystery School (with Jeff McBride): Published in 2003, this 450-page color book shares some of the magic of Eugene Burger and Jeff McBride’s Mystery School.
While many of Burger’s books are officially out of print, many used editions can be found at online stores, and specialty magic stores still sell Burger’s books.
Eugene Burger’s Magical Specialties
Eugene Burger was a highly accomplished magician. Some call him a “magician’s magician,” although others say that this diminishes his truly astonishing ability to captivate a general audience (beyond just magicians). Burger had three main specialties in magic:
1. Close-Up Magic
The magician is seated at a table no more than 10 feet away from the audience. Many times, you are closer to the magician than you would a casino dealer at a blackjack table.
Burger was exceptionally talented at this type of magic, which required extensive sleight-of-hand skills as well as presentation and people abilities. He joins other luminaries in the close-up magic circle, including David Blaine, Derren Brown, Michael Anmar, Shoot Ogawa, Jay Alexander, Teller (of Penn and Teller), and Jewel Aich.
One of Burger’s talents was to charm and disarm his audience through his unassuming, friendly persona. As you might notice from his “Three Coin Mystery” trick, Burger has a very natural presentation style that is unaffected and “real.”
Berger leads his participants along a very surprising magic ride. Up until the very end of the magic trick, his casual voice belays his talents. From his slight stuttering to the bits of “doubt” he pads in, Burger is reminiscent of some old guy you might run into at your favorite fishing hole. He weaves his tale effortlessly like he’s just shooting the breeze with you. He doesn’t give away his confidence or ability until right up to the very end of the trick with the reveal.
Stage hypnosis (as distinguished from therapeutic hypnosis or hypnotherapy) is also frequently used by mentalists.
As we’ve already covered, Eugene Burger was a master at managing and manipulating his audience. While his “Thought Sender” trick is not pure mentalism, but combined “mental magic,” you can see how he deftly guides his audience, and specifically his target, to the conclusion of the trick.
Other well-known magicians who perform mental magic include David Copperfield, David Blaine, The Amazing Kreskin, Richard Osterlind, Derren Brown, and Joseph Dunninger.
3. Bizarre Magic
Bizarre magic, also spelled with a “k” at the end of magic (bizarre magick), is a branch of magic that started to gain prominence in the 1960s
It involves the extensive use of storytelling, often with stories that are creepy or a bit disturbing. Incorporating plays on words is also an important part of bizarre magic.
The idea behind bizarre magic is to develop a narrative or weave a tale, not unlike a ghost story at a campfire, that draws the viewer in.
When we say that Eugene Burger invented the book on bizarre magic, we mean it literally. His book “Strange Ceremonies: Bizarre Magick for the Modern Conjuror” came out in 1991. The book is not a text you could find in a typical bookstore, but it can be found used online (and as a collectible) for prices ranging from $40 to $70 or more.
A reviewer on Amazon describes it as such:
“One of the classics of bizarre magick. Burger writes from a philosophical viewpoint and delves deeply into the meaning of bizarre magick and its contributions to the larger body of magic performance. There are some effects discussed, and a bit of history. But the real focus is on the philosophical/theoretical underpinnings of this branch of magic.
While it is difficult to find YouTube videos of Eugene Burger performing bizarre magic, some small snippets are available.
One of his bizarre magic tricks involves a simple spool of thread and a candle. Burger used different stories that used the thread to illustrate his points.
One version of the thread trick uses the thread as a metaphor for real life. The second YouTube video, simple titled “Eugene Burger,” which unfortunately cuts out before the full reveal, uses Hindu mythology.
In this second version, Berger talks about Brahma (God) creating the universe in a very deep and mysterious voice. As he breaks the thread over the candle, he ominously reports on the inevitable destruction of God’s creation by the God Shiva.
Other notable bizarre magic aficionados include Christian Chelman, Robert Neale, Tony Andruzzi (also known as Maskelyn ye Mage), and Burger’s friend and colleague Jeff McBride.
Supporting the Community of Magicians
Perhaps one of Eugene Burger’s best contributions to the world of magic was his support of new and up-and-coming magicians. He was more than a magician, he was also a passionate teacher of the craft. He was known to be supportive and generous with magicians who consulted with him for advice.
Perhaps Burger’s dedication to supporting other magicians stems from the positive memories he had of visiting Chicago’s now long gone magic shops as a teenager in the 1950s.
It was at these magic shops that he was able to learn from experienced magicians, who mentored him and encourage him to try magic tricks that played upon his natural talents and proclivities.
He wrote about his experiences in an article titled “The Sad Death of the Magic Shop,” which appeared in Magic Magazine in May of 2015.
In the article, he laments the loss of these unique and special magic shops that were available in downtown Chicago, Illinois, in an area known as the “Loop.” He said just in the Loop five of these mystical magic shops existed.
At the time he wrote his article, no more were left in the downtown area of Chicago.
As he explained in his piece, those magic shops were more than just about selling cheap tricks to young, hungry magicians. They were community centers, where magicians could mingle, learn, and create friendships, some of which could end up being lifelong.
The replacement of these shops with Internet magic stores has been a greater loss to the magician community, as Burger explained. Sure, you might save a few bucks on an item, but it may not be what you expected once it arrives in a package on your doorstep. You aren’t able to make those same relationships through online purchasing than you can at a local magic store.
The irony, of course, is that now, the main way a young magician can receive any sort of tutelage through the now deceased Burger is through his books, courses, and products sold through the Internet.
Following in Eugene Burger’s Magical Footsteps
For the budding magician who admires Eugene Burger and his amazing legacy, what are some of the steps to take?
1. Learn Close-Up Magic
Not everyone is meant to be a David Copperfield with massive, flashy magic that must appeal to large audiences and involve massive objects like the Statue of Liberty. And, there is something to be said for the intimacy and enchantment of close-up magic. It can make an audience member feel extremely special and awed.
2. Get Good at the Art of Storytelling
One of the things that truly set Eugene Burger apart as a magician was his ability to tell a story in such a way as to captivate the audience. Good storytelling is extremely helpful in the presentation aspect of being a magician. When it comes to doing quality bizarre magic, good storytelling is essential.
Good storytelling is more than just remembering the “facts” or storyline of a particular narrative. It is about the pacing, choice of words, and how you use your voice, as well as punctuating your stories with the right body language. And that body language can be a great asset when it comes to sleight of hand and deflection.
Eugene Burger Will Not Be Forgotten
The world of magic will miss Eugene Burger, but he will not be forgotten. A fascinating and dedicated professional magician, this bearded wizard was an amazing performer, writer, and teacher.