James Randi, born in Toronto, Canada, on August 7, 1928, began his career as a stage magician and escape artist. However, he achieved fame as a professional skeptic, publicly disproving the claims of self-described psychics, mentalists and faith healers, most notably the paranormalist Uri Geller and the TV evangelist Peter Popoff. He has also written numerous books about supernatural frauds.
Randall James Hamilton Zwinge was born on August 7, 1928, in Toronto, Canada, to George Randall and Marie Alice (Paradis) Zwinge. He showed an early talent for mathematics, and he began to study conjuring as a teen, after seeing a performance by the magician Harry Blackstone Sr. At the age of 15, he confronted a local preacher who claimed to have mystical powers, exposing the act as trickery. He dropped out of school at 17 and joined a carnival, touring with the show as a mind reader and magician.
Magic and Skepticism
Taking "James Randi" as his stage name, Randi established his own career as a stage magician and escape artist. Inspired by the legendary Harry Houdini, he performed stunts like being sealed in an underwater coffin in 1956 and freeing himself from a straitjacket suspended over Niagara Falls in 1976. As his fame grew, he was nicknamed "The Amazing Randi" and he began to appear regularly on television and radio, from children's programs to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
However, Randi always stressed that he was performing illusions that could be explained logically, differentiating himself from individuals who claimed to possess actual psychic abilities or divine powers.
Debunking and Challenges
Randi was a founding member of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. He began speaking out against various faith healers, seers, mediums and mystics, exposing them as con artists and frauds. His most prominent target was Uri Geller, an Israeli-born self-proclaimed psychic known for bending spoons and other metal objects with his professed mental powers. Randi successfully challenged Geller in 1972. Another notorious case was that of the television evangelist Peter Popoff, who claimed to have God-given mind-reading powers; Randi revealed Popoff's hidden methods in 1986.
In 1996 Randi established the nonprofit James Randi Education Foundation to support scientific research into paranormal claims. The foundation offers $1 million to anyone who can prove supernatural or paranormal ability beyond doubt.
Publications and Honors
Randi has written numerous books on the history of magic and mysticism, including The Mask of Nostradamus (1990) and Conjuring (1992), as well as exposés of psychic phenomena, including The Magic of Uri Geller (1975); Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions (1982); and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (1995).
He was invited to perform at the White House in 1974 and was made a Fellow of the MacArthur Foundation in 1986.
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