Harry Houdini

Magician

Born: 24 March 1874
Died: 31 October 1926 (peritonitis)
Birthplace: Budapest, Hungary
Best known as: The world's greatest escape artist

Name at birth: Ehrich Weiss

Harry Houdini was the most influential magician of the 20th century. His specialty was escapes: slipping out of ropes, chains and handcuffs while locked in trunks and milk cans or submerged underwater. (He once jumped into San Francisco Bay while handcuffed and shackled to a ball and chain.) In an era before TV, Harry Houdini became world famous by barnstorming across America and around the globe. His skills and showmanship made the single name "Houdini" synonymous with entertaining magic; he is often credited with influencing later magicians from David Copperfield to David Blaine. Houdini died in 1926, reportedly due to peritonitis after his appendix ruptured; the legend that he died during a failed escape is untrue. (Another legend has it that Houdini's death was caused by an overeager fan, who ruptured Houdini's appendix with a surprise punch to the stomach. The punch did occur, but scholars think it probably did not cause the appendicitis.) Houdini's 1924 book A Magician Among the Spirits looked skeptically at the spiritualists of the day.

Extra credit: Harry Houdini sometimes claimed his birthplace was Appleton, Wisconsin... Houdini chose his stage name as a tribute to French illusionist Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin... Houdini was known for debunking spiritualists, and once offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could produce a "psychical manifestation" which Houdini could not reproduce by natural means... Actor Tony Curtis played the magician in the 1953 movie Houdini.

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