The Untold Truth Of The Amazing Randi

That's it, 2020. We've really had enough of you. You started off with news of the Australian wildfires killing over a billion animals, then the Covid-19 pandemic struck and hasn't stopped. You took Kobe Bryant from us, then Eddie Van Halen. And now The Amazing Randi?! How could you? The famous magician and skeptic died of natural causes on October 20. He was 92 years old. His death was announced on his website, which simply stated that the magician "had an Amazing life. We will miss him."

James Randi dedicated his life to sniffing out and debunking all kinds of paranormal tomfoolery. According to his New York Times obituary, the "father of the modern skeptical movement" had a particular knack for calling out and proving bogus everything from "spoon bending, mind reading, fortunetelling, ghost whispering, water dowsing, faith healing, U.F.O. spotting and sundry varieties of bamboozlement, bunco, chicanery, flimflam, flummery, humbuggery, mountebankery, pettifoggery and out-and-out quacksalvery." No, not even quacksalvery was safe from The Amazing Randi's piercing stare.

Indeed, anyone whose blood boils at the thought of pseudoscience and how it is used to trick the gullible out of their hard-earned money will miss the man who was awarded a MacArthur Genius Fellowship in 1986 for his work to expose shams like faith healers, psychic surgeons, and other medical quacks. The foundation wrote that "[t]hrough his exposés, he has alerted the public to the danger of treatment" from such frauds.

He became interested in magic and the art of deception at an early age

He was born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge, reported the Associated PressAccording to Movie Web, the future Randi suffered a terrible accident, putting him in a body cast for over a year as a child. During that time, the future magician, skeptic, and escapologist read a ton of material on magic and became interested in being a stage performer. The Toronto, Canada, native ended up dropping out of high school to perform in a traveling carnival and was soon a professional magician and escapologist. In 1956, he spent 104 minutes submerged in a steel coffin at the bottom of a swimming pool, beating the previous record of 93 minutes, which was held by Harry Houdini. Randi is also the Guinness World Record holder for longest amount of time encased in a block of ice: 55 frigid minutes.

He was the subject of the 2014 documentary An Honest Liar, which followed his life from a young man frustrated with charlatans' misuse of his favorite magic tricks to the world's most respected debunker of supernatural mumbo jumbo. Billed on its website as "part detective-story, part biography, and a bit of magic act itself," the film features appearances from other famous magicians, scientists, and MythBusters such as Bill Nye, Penn & Teller, and Adam Savage. They and other devotees of science, illusion, and — ultimately — truth will surely miss the world's most famous disbeliever.

The million-dollar prize The Amazing Randi's foundation never awarded

"I suffer from this obsession that I have something important to do," Randi told The AP in 2007. One exceptionally loathsome quack that obsession led him to expose to the gullible world was televangelist and faith healer Peter Popoff, who claimed he received divine messages about his audience members' ailments. He didn't. Randi demonstrated that Popoff's wife Elizabeth was reading him the concerns that had been written on prayer request forms, via an earpiece.

The Amazing Randi was a shrewd and diligent investigator who had enough confidence in his logic to base his beliefs on provable scientific fact, but he had enough imagination to leave open the possibility that he'd gotten things wrong. "I am probably right," he told The AP. "But I'm always only probably right. Absolutes are very hard to find."

The James Randi Educational Foundation was his epic challenge to the world to prove him wrong. Through his foundation, Randi offered a $1 million prize to anyone who could produce evidence of their supernatural abilities or the existence of a supernatural being. In an exercise in pure irony, some of Randi's critics alleged that the prize money was as mythical as mermaids. But, ever the empiricist, Randi had the account statements to back up his claim. As you might expect, that money remains in the bank to this day, and Randi remained a skeptic to the end.