Illusionists and magicians have been boggling the minds of pundits for hundreds of years. Throughout history, our fascination with magic has rarely wavered and even if its legitimacy might have changed over time, we continue to follow the work of famous magicians. While tricks and stunts these days are heavily controlled, it wasn’t always the case. For a number of magicians in history, the perfect trick always eluded them and many went to grave extremes to pull them off. These illusionists might have been at the top of their game but eventually, it was the magic that got to them.
- John Miller
More famously known as Balabrega, John Miller was climbing the rungs of the magic ladder in the 19th century. Sharing an evening show with Harry Houdini, Miller was well on his way to becoming one of the best, right before he lost his nerve over one trick. Trying to make it on his own, Miller booked a tour in Brazil after having bought a trick called “The Moth and the Flame”. A dangerous stunt, the trick used six women as “moths”, luring them into a candle flame to eventually disappear. Significant amounts of gas were needed to pull off the trick and unable to find the stuff in South America, Miller brought acetylene gas bags. While setting up the show, one of the bags exploded, instantly killing Miller and his assistant. He never quite made the big time as he had hoped.
- Madame DeLinksy
Catching a bullet between your teeth is one of the most infamous magic tricks out there and relatively few have managed to carry it off. In the hope of really making a name for herself, 19th century illusionist Madame DeLinsky attempted to pull off the trick during a performance in front of a German prince. Tragically, the trick went awry, with the bullet catching Madame DeLinsky in the chest. While soldiers had been informed to swap their bullets for blanks, one soldier had forgotten to do so, and it was his bullet that ended up killing the magician.
- Dr. Vivian Hensley
Lack of experience is always a risk for a magician, particularly if they’re trying to pull of a major trick. Such was the case for Dr. Vivian Hensley, who died due to his own lack of knowledge. Using a razor blade, Hensley tried to make it look like he had swallowed the tool, when in fact it would retract down his own sleeve. Unknowingly, however, Hensley put the blade in his mouth and swallowed it by accident. Despite being rushed to hospital, Hensley never recovered from the incident and four days later, he was dead.
- Joseph W. Burrus
Also known as Amazing Joe, Joseph W. Burrus came to a grisly end when trying to pull off a huge feat of illusion. After having been handcuffed, he was locked in a coffin and placed in a grave seven feet deep. Seven tons of dirt and cement were then dumped on the coffin, while Burrus attempted to escape from inside. Tragically, however, the trick never played out and after being buried beneath all the dirt, the coffin was destroyed with Burrus inside it.
- Charles Rowan
Practicing under a stage name of Karr the Magician, Charles Rowan wanted to set himself up as an escape artist. For his final trick, he had himself tied up in a straight jacket while a car drove towards him at 45 miles per hour. He aimed to get out of the jacket just in time but, unable to loosen the ties, he ended up getting stuck, run over by the car in front of an audience.