James Randi Biography

(Canadian-American Stage Magician Who Extensively Challenged Paranormal and Pseudoscientific Claims)

Birthday: August 7, 1928 (Leo)

Born In: Toronto, Canada

James Randi was a Canadian-American stage magician, an escape artist and a scientific skeptic who devoted much of life debunking everything paranormal – from spoon bending to ghost whispering, faith healing and U.F.O. spotting. He began his career as a magician and escape artist under the stage name The Amazing Randi and famously created two world records with his acts. He performed in numerous television shows too, though he always reminded his audience that his acts were based on tricks and were not a result of any paranormal power. He also went on to debunk claims by psychics, faith healers and fortune tellers. He was called a debunker but he preferred to describe himself as an investigator or a skeptic. In his career, he investigated numerous people including Peter Popoff, a fraudulent faith healer. He helped co-found the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and later established James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Through the latter, he also offered one million dollar to anyone who could provide evidence of paranormal, supernatural or occult power. Despite numerous participants, the award remained unclaimed. Randi also wrote extensively – he authored ten books and also contributed to various magazines. A revered name in the scientific community, he received numerous awards and honours for his work.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Randall James Hamilton Zwinge

Died At Age: 92


Spouse/Ex-: Deyvi Orangel Peña Arteaga

father: George Randall Zwinge

mother: Marie Alice, Marie Alice Paradis

siblings: Angela Easton, Paul Zwinge

Born Country: Canada

Magicians American Men

Height: 1.68 m

Died on: October 20, 2020

place of death: Plantation, Florida, United States

Ancestry: Canadian American

City: Toronto, Canada

Founder/Co-Founder: James Randi Educational Foundation

Childhood & Early Life

James Randi was born on 7th August, 1928 in Toronto, Canada. His family included his parents George Randall Zwinge and Marie Alice, a sister Angela Easton and a brother, Paul Zwinge.

He was an intelligent student, hence the local school soon allowed him to attend only to take exams.

At the age of 12, he saw a performance by the great American stage magician Harry Blackstone Sr and was inspired to take up magic. He also read a number of conjuring books while recuperating for 13 months after a bicycle accident.

At the age of 15, he exposed a local preacher who claimed to read minds. He re-enacted the trick for the people. Consequently, he ended up spending four hours in jail after the pastor’s wife called the police. This became the basis for his career as a scientific skeptic.

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At the age of 17, James Randi dropped out of high school and joined a travelling carnival becoming a mentalist and an escape artist. He also practiced at the local nightclubs.

He became known for his escape acts. During this time, after seeing an escape act from Quebec jail cell, a local newspaper called him L’Étonnant Randi – The Amazing Randi. The name stayed throughout his life.

Amongst the various acts that he went on to perform throughout 1950s to 1970s were the two that are listed in the Guinness World Records. In 1974, In the first, in 1956, he stayed underwater in a sealed metal casket for 104 minutes, breaking the previous 93 minutes record of Harry Houdini; he created this re. In the second, he stayed for almost an hour in a vast block of ice.

In other acts, he successfully escaped from a straitjacket while being suspended over Broadway (1955) and at another time escaped while dangling upside down over the Niagara Falls (1976, in Canadian TV special World of Wizards).

Between 1959 and 1967, James Randi was frequently seen in the US children’s television series Wonderama. Apart from this, he also hosted a number of television specials.

Additionally, in 1967-1968 he turned a radio host for New York City radio station WOR’s programme The Amazing Randi Show.

He also went on several stage tours around the world. Musician Alice Cooper hired him for the Billion Dollar Babies tour (1973-1974). In the show, James Randi appeared on stage every night at the end as the executioner decapitating Cooper with a trick guillotine.

He shot to international fame when he went after the British Israeli psychic, Uri Geller, who captivated the audience with his metal spoon bending and other acts. In 1973, Geller appeared on The Tonight Show where the host Johnny Carson, on Randi’s advice, provided the former with their own props.

Geller was unable to perform any trick saying he did not feel strong; however, his popularity did not diminish. This made Randi write a book exposing Geller. The book The Magic of Uri Geller was published in 1975 and republished as The Truth About Uri Geller In 1982.

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In 1976, along with psychologist Ray Hyman and the Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner, James Randi formed Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). He travelled around the world representing CSICOP and became the face of the skeptical movement.

He also wrote numerous articles for the magazine – Skeptical Inquirer – published by the committee. CSICOP was later renamed Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) in 2006 and he became one of its fellows.

In another of his celebrated investigations in 1986, he revealed the methods used by Peter Popoff, a self-described faith healer popular in mid 1980s.

In his public gatherings, Peter identified audience members by their name and revealed their afflictions, saying God told him about it. Randi disclosed, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, that Peter’s wife conveyed the information (which were previously collected by Peter’s assistants) to Peter via a small receiver hidden in his ear. This damaged Popoff’s reputation and he ceased operations for some time.

In 1988, he showed the gullibility of the media by having his young associate José Alvarez pose as a spirit channeler named Carlos. Carlos drew a lot of crowd and was covered uncritically by the media. Randi revealed his hoax on the show 60 Minutes Australia.

In 1989, he investigated numerous people claiming to have psychic powers in a two-hour television special Exploring Psychic Powers ... Live. A reward was offered for anyone who could prove their powers. Many participated but none succeeded.

In 1996, he founded the James Randi Educational Foundation, through which he began the Million Dollar Challenge contest. The reward was offered to anyone who could prove the existence of paranormal, supernatural or occult phenomenon. Again, despite numerous participants, none won.

From 2003 onwards, the foundation began hosting an annual conference – The Amaz!ng Meeting – of scientists, skeptics, and atheists from around the world. The conference continued for 12 years and was last held in 2015, the year Randi retired from JREF.

He became a part of various podcasts including Skepticality, Point of Inquiry, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe and The Amazing Show.

During his career, he authored numerous books including Flim-Flam! (1980); The Faith Healers (1987); The Mask of Nostradamus (1990); James Randi: Psychic Investigator (1991); Conjuring (1992) and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (1995).

Awards & Achievements

Amongst the numerous awards and honours that he received are MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and Lifetime Achievement Awards by American Humanist Association, Academy of Magical Arts, Australian Skeptics Inc, International Brotherhood of Magicians and Independent Investigations Group.

He was also amongst the select few members of the UK Magic Circle to be awarded the highest order: Member of the Inner Magic Circle With Gold Star.

Family & Personal Life

James Randi came out as gay in 2010 and married his partner José Alvarez (born Deyvi Orangel Peña Arteaga) in 2013. The two met for the first time in 1986.

The 2014 biographical feature film documentary An Honest Liar revolved around his life. It received positive reviews from both critics and audience.

In 2020, he expired due to age related issues at his home in Plantation, Florida.

See the events in life of James Randi in Chronological Order

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