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Houdini in Handcuffs, 1918
Houdini in handcuffs, 1918

Harry Houdini (1874 - 1926) was a Hungarian-American magician and escapologist. He also investigated fake spiritualists and was a skeptic.

Life and career

He was born in Budapest to Jewish parents and was named Ehrich Weiss, but changed his name when he became a professional magician. At first he did not have much success in his career. In 1899 his luck changed when he met his manager Martin Beck. Martin Beck was impressed with Houdini's handcuff trick and within a year Houdini was famous, playing big vaudeville shows and touring Europe.

He was a big star in Europe, and they called him The Handcuff King. After being strip-searched, he still escaped from the worst of tangles. He would free himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in plain sight of street audiences. In 1912, Houdini introduced his most famous act, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, in which he was supposed to be upside-down in a locked glass-and-steel cabinet overflowing with water. He had to hold his breath for more than three minutes. Houdini performed the act for the rest of his career. He once made an elephant disappear. He offered a cash prize to any spiritualist or medium who could prove their supernatural abilities. None could. This called him to fall out with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Houdini also appeared in several early movies and made many early flights in aeroplanes. He made the first successful aeroplane flight in Australia, on 18 March 1910, at Diggers' Rest, Victoria.


He died in Detroit, Michigan in 1926 from peritonitis after his appendix was ruptured. He was suffering from appendicitis but refused to see a doctor. A student, J. Gordon Whitehead, came to see him and asked if it was true that Houdini could stand being punched in the stomach many times. Houdini said he could, but before he could prepare his stomach the student began to punch him. He later travelled to perform a show. During the show, his appendix burst and Houdini died. Some claim that the appendix would have burst anyway as Houdini refused to see a doctor. He was buried on 4 November 1926. There were over 2000 mourners.

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