Born in New York in 1967, famed magician and television persoanlity Criss Angel made his primetime TV debut on 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.
Criss Angel was born Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos on December 19, 1967, in East Meadow, New York, 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 before he passed away from cancer in 1998.
Angel fell in love with magic at the age of 7, when his Aunt Stella showed him a card trick. "From that day on, I was hooked," Angel later remembered. "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 age 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, Criss Angel decided to forgo college to pursue a full-time career in magic. His decision to skip college angered his parents. "The thought of my becoming a professional magician was unbearable for them," Angel later 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. Between traveling and performing, he attempted to further his education in 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," he said.
In 1994, Angel made his primetime television debut on 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. Angel 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. Opening in 2001, Criss Angel: Mindfreak ran for more 600 performances before closing in 2003. On 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, among other acts.
Las Vegas Showman
In 2005, Angel transformed Criss Angel: Mindfreak into an A&E reality TV series. Filmed on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada, the show was an instant success, catapulting Angel into the realm of bona fide celebrities. Some of the series' most famous stunts showed 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 to air on A&E, Criss Angel Mindfreak ran for five seasons, ending in 2010.
Propelled by the popularity of Mindfreak, Angel went on to partner with Cirque du Soleil to create a new live show, Criss Angel Believe, at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. Believe was named after Angel's idol, legendary magician Harry Houdini (the iconic magician Houdini gave the code word "believe" to 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: October 31, 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, "'Believe' is unbelievably bad."
Television, Music and Books
Angel added another TV series to his repertoire in 2007, when he performed as a judge on NBC's reality TV series Phenomenon, 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 $1 million 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, on which he'd printed "9-11." Angel explained, "If somebody could predict, tell us on 9-10 that 9-11 was going to happen, maybe that could have prevented it."
Mindfreak ended in 2010, but Angel wasn't away from the small screen for long. He returned in 2013 with BeLIEve, a new series featuring 11 challenging and possibly life-threatening illusions.
Outside of his career as an illusionist, Angel is a musician. He's released five albums, a self-titled trilogy and two soundtracks for Criss Angel Mindfreak. Additionally, in 2007, Angel published a memoir, Mindfreak: Secret Revelations, which appeared on the Los Angeles Times' best-seller 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's 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" honor a record five times—in 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008—as well as its "Magician of the Decade" (2009) and "Magician of the Century" (2010) titles. He is also the only magician to appear on the covers of both Magic magazine (October 2003) and Genii magazine (December 2003)—the most popular and respected magic magazines worldwide. Additionally, Angel 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 his shows aim to raise "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, the magician once wrote: "Sometimes my art is just an illusion—or is it?"
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