Criss Angel biography
SynopsisCriss Angel was born on December 19, 1967 in East Meadow, New York. He made his prime-time television debut in the 1994 ABC one-hour special, "Secrets" and headlined Madison Square Garden in 1998. He launched the A&E reality TV series "Criss Angel: Mindfreak" in 2005 and has since partnered with Cirque du Soleil.
Entertainer. Criss Angel was born Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos on December 19, 1967, into a Greek-American family. Angel and his two brothers, Costa and J.D., were raised by their parents, John and Dimitra, in East Meadow, New York. Angel says that he learned his diligent work ethic from his father, a fitness junkie who owned a successful restaurant and doughnut shop until he passed away from cancer in 1998.
Angel fell in love with magic at 7, when his Aunt Stella showed him a card trick. "From that day on, I was hooked," Angel remembers. "I felt this incredible sense of power that an adult didn't understand how it worked, but I did." He practiced magic tricks obsessively, and gave his first magic show at the age of 12—at a neighbor's birthday party, for a fee of $10. While attending East Meadow High School, Angel performed frequently at neighborhood restaurants. He was a regular act at a Long Island restaurant called the Wine Gallery, where Angel says his tips "could easily clear a hundred dollars on a good night."
After graduating from high school, Angel decided to forego college to pursue a career in magic full time. His decision to skip college angered his parents. "The thought of my becoming a professional magician was unbearable for them," Angel recalled. "They had hoped their three sons would go to college and become doctors or lawyers—but not a magician!" Despite his parents' objections, Angel hit the road and began touring with other traveling performance acts. In between traveling and performing, Angel attempted to further his education on his own by studying the history of magic in public libraries. He also studied the art of mysticism, music, martial arts, and even dance. "It was a practical education, not a formal one," Angel said.
In 1994, Angel made his prime-time television debut in the ABC one-hour special, Secrets. In 1998, Criss Angel: World of Illusion headlined New York's Madison Square Garden during the city's annual Halloween convention. He performed the same 10-minute show 60 times per day throughout the entire 12-day convention. His performances there landed Angel his next major gig, a permanent show at the World Underground Theater in Times Square. Criss Angel: Mindfreak opened in 2001 and ran for over 600 performances before closing in 2003. During the popular and critically acclaimed show, Angel vanished and reappeared, made doves fly out of his hands, changed a $1 bill into a $10 bill and made audience members appear to levitate.
Las Vegas Showman
In 2005, Angel transformed Criss Angel: Mindfreak into an A&E reality TV series. Filmed on the streets of Las Vegas, the show became an instant success, and catapulted Angel into the realm of bona fide celebrities.
Some of the show's most infamous stunts include Angel walking on water, splitting a woman in half in a public park, and flying over the Valley of Fire while suspended from a helicopter by his bare skin. One of the most popular shows ever to air on A&E, Criss Angel Mindfreak has run for five seasons.
Propelled by the popularity of Mindfreak, Angel partnered with Cirque du Soleil to create a new live show, Criss Angel Believe, to run at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. Believe was named after the code word Angel's idol, the legendary magician Harry Houdini, gave his wife to confirm whether anyone had contacted him in the afterlife. The show, which weaves together Angel's illusions and theatrical acrobatics, premiered on the 82nd anniversary of Houdini's death in 2008. Unfortunately, Believe received relatively poor reviews from audiences and critics. At the end of one 2009 show, Angel infamously spewed insults at gossip blogger Perez Hilton, who had Tweeted mid-show that "Believe is unbelievably bad."
TV, Music and Books
Angel added another TV series to his repertoire, when he performed as a judge on NBC's 2007 reality TV series Phenomenon, a show featuring contestants competing to be named the next great mentalist. In an interview about the show on Larry King Live, Angel, who does not believe that anyone possesses supernatural capabilities, stated, "If somebody goes on that show and claims to have supernatural psychic ability, I'm going to bust them live and on television." He lived up to his words. Angel got into a shouting match with contestant Jim Callahan after Angel called his attempt at necromancy "comical" and offered Callahan a million dollars if he could tell him the contents of a sealed envelope. Callahan could not, and Angel later revealed that the envelope contained an index card printed "9-11." He explained, "If somebody could predict, tell us on 9-10 that 9-11 was going to happen, maybe that could have prevented it."
Besides his career as an illusionist, Angel is also a musician. He has released five albums, a self-titled trilogy and two soundtracks for Criss Angel Mindfreak. In 2007, Angel published a memoir, Mindfreak: Secret Revelations, which appeared on the Los Angels Times bestsellers list.
Criss Angel maintains a rock star persona. He sports an all-black wardrobe, long hair, heavy eye makeup, and abundant metal jewelry. He counts rock stars Tommy Lee and Korn frontman Jonathan Davis among his closest friends, and since his wife of five years, JoAnn Winkhart, filed for divorce in 2007, he has dated a series of high-profile women including former Playboy covergirl Holly Madison.
Angel's live and televised performances have earned him the International Magicians Society's prestigious "Magician of the Year" designation a record five times (2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008). He is also the only magician ever to appear on the covers of both Magic magazine (October 2003) and Genii magazine (December 2003), the most popular and respected magic magazines worldwide.
In addition, he was unanimously selected as the recipient of the 22nd Louie Award for outstanding achievement in the art of magic.
Besides their pure entertainment value, Angel says he sees his shows as "raising questions that provoke more thought, more controversy, and a desire, at least on a personal level, to live to your greatest potential." In order to achieve this mysterious effect, Angel keeps the methods behind his performances a closely guarded secret. Describing his technique in characteristically enigmatic fashion, Angel once wrote, "Sometimes my art is just an illusion—or is it?"