Whether you are brand-new to the world of magic or you just want to brush up on your magician history, there are quite a few famous magicians you should know about.
There are so many different magicians that have shaped the community and the tricks that are performed today. We will be looking at ten famous magicians that everyone who practices or is interested in magic could learn from.
This list has individuals from different types of history, giving you a great overview of the people who started it all.
Ten Famous Magicians
Harry Blackstone Sr.
We are going to start with one of the famous magicians of all time. Harry Blackstone Sr. is an American magician from Three Rivers, Michigan and was born in 1934.
Over his lifetime it has been estimated that he has pulled 80,000 rabbits from his sleeves and hats. He developed a lot of his performance routines and modernized a lot of the traditional tricks that he performed. Blackstone also created four different levels (beginner to advanced) of magic kits that sold better than any other kits at the time.
He also appeared in a lot of commercials on TV for magic kits and Jiffy Pop popcorn in the 1970s. In 1985, he donated to the Smithsonian Institution of the original floating light bulb designed by Thomas Edison, along with the original Casadega Cabinet (used in the “dancing handkerchief” illusion).
He also designed a lot of the illusions used at Seaworld’s water show that featured the DC Comics superheroes.
During his active years, Blackstone traveled to the United States frequently and extensively. When he went on tour, he would go to dozens and dozens of different cities to perform. During his Magnificent Musical Magical Show, which opened in May 1980, he played in 156 cities.
He received the Academy of Magical Arts Magician of the Year Award in two separate years, once in 1979 and again in 1985.
Siegfried and Roy
This next in our famous magicians is a German-American duo. Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn were both born in Germany and migrated to the United States to start their magic careers.
They specialized in working with white cats, specifically a lion and a tiger. They started out as a duo performing on cruise ships in Germany. Then, then owner of the Astoria Theatre in Bremen, Germany saw and recruited the two of them to perform at her nightclub. This ignited a career of working at nightclubs around Europe, and they then started to work with tigers.
In 1967, they were discovered during a performance in Paris by Tony Azzie and were asked to come to Las Vegas. In 1981, they were a part of the Beyond Belief show that was created by Ken Feld of Irvin and Kenneth Feld Productions. A version of this show went on a world tour in 1988.
In the early 2000s, October of 2003 to be exact, Roy Horn was dragged on the floor and bitten on his neck by their male, white tiger, Montecore. This event caused Mirage to close the show, and Horn spent several long years in recovery and rehabilitation afterward.
In April of 2010, the pair completely retired from show business after a long, exciting, successful career.
This is a name you have heard before, even if you know nothing else of the magic world.
Harry Houdini, who was born Erik Weisz in 1874, was an Austro-Hungarian-American stunt performer and illusionist. He was very famous for his incredibly sensational escape acts. He gained fame starting as “Harry Handcuff Houdini” on tour in Europe. He challenges the local police to keep him locked up. After this, he included ropes hanging from skyscrapers, chains, straitjackets under water, and escaping from a sealed milk can.
Throughout the early 1900s, Houdini was extremely popular in the United States. He escaped from jails, ropes, straitjackets, and many other tight and constricted objects and places. After other magicians began to imitate him, he started escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can. Anything that could result in great injury or death was of interest to him and his fans.
After a few years, Houdini even started inviting the public to come up with different contraptions to trap him in. These included different ideas like the belly of a washed-up whale, wet sheets, nailed packing crates, and other terrifying locations.
In 1913, he introduced the Chinese Water Torture Cell. This consisted of him being suspended in a locked glass and steel cabinet filled with water upside down. He would hold his breath for over three minutes while escaping. This became a very popular act for him and the audience, and he performed it for the rest of his life.
Houdini was also the president of the Society of American Magicians from 1917 until he died in 1926. This was a society founded in 1902 in a magic shop in New York.
David Copperfield, who is also known as David Seth Kotkin, was known by Forbes as the most commercially successful magician in history. He is also one of the most famous magicians in the world.
Since the 1980s, David Copperfield has been a vastly popular and beloved magician. He has a unique way of performing tricks. It involves many storytelling, which is immensely popular with his audience.
He has earned 11 different Guinness World Records over his enormous career of 40 years, and he was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress. As of 2015, he is one of the highest earning celebrities in the world. They consider him as one of the greatest entertainers of all time.
Being a highly immersive professional magician has resulted in a few lawsuits and injuries, which makes sense with how involved and intense his shows are.
David Blaine is an American endurance artist, magician, and illusionist. He is most well-known for his incredible, high-profile endurance feats. He has set and broken several different world records as well.
Blaine’s ideas completely revolutionized the way that we watch magic on television. Instead of focusing solely on the performer, the camera was turned around on the audience watching him.
He has completed an incredible number of different stunts, performed on TV countless times, and has provided an entirely new way of broadcasting magic to the world. Some of his stunts include:
- Buried Alive
- Frozen in Time
- Mysterious Stranger
- Street Magic
Jean Eugene Rober-Houdin
By far the oldest magician on our list, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin was born in 1805. He is a French magician and is considered the father of the modern style of conjuring.
One of his most famous tricks was to prove that French magic was stronger than any local superstitions. He presented an empty box that had an iron bottom that was easy to lift. He then turned on an electromagnet that was hidden in the floor, making it completely immovable.
Before Robert-Houdin came along, magicians mostly only performed in marketplaces and fairs. He made it normal to perform during private parties and in theaters for audiences. Robert-Houdin also normalized dressing in formalwear for his performances, which many magicians still do today.
Richard Jay Potash is an American magician, writer, and actor born around 1948 (he does not like to talk about his childhood, so an exact birthday is not known).
Mark Singer has called him “the most gifted sleight of hand artist alive.” He is also known for card throwing, card tricks, stage patter, and memory feats. In addition to performing live, he has also written extensively on the history of magic and magic itself. He has also acted in movies featuring magicians like The Prestige.
Ricky Jay has paved the way for a lot of magicians. He was one of the youngest to ever perform a full magic act on TV. He is also the first to ever perform in comedy clubs, and most likely the first to ever open for a rock band. In the 1960s, he performed between Ike and Tina Turner and Timothy Leary.
Up until the record was broken by Rick Smith Jr., Jay was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for throwing a playing card 190 feet at 90 miles an hour. He was also able to throw a playing card into a watermelon rind and throw a card like a boomerang. He then cut it in half with a pair of giant scissors on its way back. In his shows, he frequently attacked plastic animals by throwing cards in “self-defense.”
Derren Brown is a mentalist and illusionist from England. His television debut in 2000, Derren Brown: Mind Control, started his career. Since then, he has been producing many different shows for television and the stage, as well as writing books for magicians and the general population as well.
He specifically states that he does not have any supernatural powers. He goes out of his way during his acts to expose those who do say they have them. He states that his effects are from psychology, magic, suggestion, misdirection, and showmanship.
His books on magic include Absolute Magic, Tricks of the Mind, Pure Effect, and Confessions of a Conjuror. Absolute Magic and Pure Effect are for those who practice magic and mentalism. The other two are for the general public.
Penn and Teller
Penn and Teller are unique because they incorporate comedy into their magic shows. Penn Jillette and Teller are American magicians that have been performing together since the 1970s.
They have been featured on many different stages and television shows like Pen & Teller: Fool Us, and they are headlining at The Rio in Las Vegas currently as well.
Penn Jillette is the act’s raconteur and orator. Teller does not usually speak at all while performing. It is something he picked up from his early days of magic to avoid being heckled. Instead, he communicates through nonverbals and mime.
They have had many global tours throughout the years and are very well respected as a one of the famous magicians duo.
Harry August Jansen (Dante)
Lastly, we have Harry August Jansen, also known as Dante. He was born on October 3, 1883, and passed away on June 15, 1955. Dante was a world-famous traveling magician that many admired and looked up to.
When he passed away, it has been said that the historical period is known as the “Golden Age of Magic” came to an end. The vast, glamorous traveling magic productions and variety theaters were fading away at this point.
Dante was known across the globe as “Dante the Magician.” He specialized in burlesque, theater, films, television, and vaudeville. His large troupe consisted of anywhere from 25 to 40 performers. He made several trips around the world and performed in a vast number of theaters in the United States.
These ten famous magicians are extraordinary pillars of magic history. Learning more about where different tricks and aspects of the industry began can be helpful for new magicians getting started.
Also, these are not the only ten you should consider. There were many, many different famous magicians and illusionists that built the industry and community to where it is today.
Who is your favorite magician on the list? Was there anyone you didn’t see that you think is incredibly influential?