'Nation's Foremost Skeptic' Dead at 92

Magician devoted his life to exposing psychics, spoon benders, and quacks
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 22, 2020 9:11 AM CDT
'Nation's Foremost Skeptic' Dead at 92
In this Friday, June 29, 2007 photo, James Randi is shown in front of a poster at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.   (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

James Randi, a magician who later challenged spoon benders, mind readers, and faith healers with such voracity that he became regarded as the country’s foremost skeptic, has died, his foundation announced. He was 92. The James Randi Educational Foundation said simply that its founder succumbed to "age-related causes” on Tuesday. Entertainer, genius, debunker, atheist— Randi was them all, the AP reports. He began gaining attention not long after dropping out of high school to join the carnival. As the Amazing Randi, he escaped from a locked coffin submerged in water and from a straitjacket as he dangled over Niagara Falls. Magical as his feats seemed, Randi concluded his shows around the globe with a simple statement, insisting no otherworldly powers were at play. "Everything you have seen here is tricks," he would say. "There is nothing supernatural involved."

On a 1972 episode of the Tonight Show, he helped Johnny Carson set up Uri Geller, the Israeli performer who claimed to bend spoons with his mind. Randi ensured the spoons and other props were kept from Geller’s hands until showtime to prevent any tampering. The result was an agonizing 22 minutes in which Geller was unable to perform any tricks. The James Randi Educational Foundation promised a $1 million prize to anybody who could prove their own supernatural powers. No one ever came close to collecting. Randi—born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge in Toronto on Aug. 7, 1928—sought to disprove not just those who read palms and minds, but chiropractors, homeopaths, and others he saw as predators seeking innocent people’s money. Penn Jillette, a magician in the mold of Randi, mourned his friend on Twitter, writing: "We will never forget that without Randi, there would not be Penn & Teller. It’s really that simple." (Read much more on Randi here.)

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