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|Born||Randall James Hamilton Zwinge|
August 7, 1928
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
|Occupation||Magician, illusionist, writer, skeptic|
|Religion||None (Atheist) |
|Spouse(s)||Deyvi Peña (married 2013)|
|Born||Randall James Hamilton Zwinge|
August 7, 1928
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
|Occupation||Magician, illusionist, writer, skeptic|
|Religion||None (Atheist) |
|Spouse(s)||Deyvi Peña (married 2013)|
James Randi (born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge, August 7, 1928) is a Canadian-American retired stage magician and scientific skeptic best known for his challenges to paranormal claims and pseudoscience. Randi is the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Randi began his career as a magician named The Amazing Randi, but after retiring at age 60, he was able to devote most of his time to investigating paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims, which he collectively calls "woo-woo."
Although often referred to as a "debunker," Randi dislikes the term's connotations and prefers to describe himself as an "investigator." He has written about the paranormal, skepticism, and the history of magic. He was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and was occasionally featured on the television program Penn & Teller: Bullshit! The JREF sponsors the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge offering a prize of US$1,000,000 to eligible applicants who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties.
Randi was born in Toronto, Canada, on August 7, 1928, the son of Marie Alice (née Paradis) and George Randall Zwinge. He has a younger brother and sister. He took up magic after seeing Harry Blackstone, Sr. and reading magic books while spending 13 months in a body cast following a bicycle accident. He confounded doctors who expected he would never walk again. Randi often skipped classes, and, at 17, dropped out of high school to perform as a conjurer in a carnival roadshow. He practiced as a mentalist in local nightclubs and at Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition, and wrote for Montreal's tabloid press. In his twenties, Randi posed as a psychic to establish that they were actually doing simple tricks, and briefly wrote an astrological column in the Canadian tabloid Midnight under the name "Zo-ran," by simply shuffling up items from newspaper astrology columns and pasting them randomly into a column. In his thirties, Randi worked in Philippine nightclubs and all across Japan. He witnessed many tricks that were presented as being supernatural. One of his earliest reported experiences is that of seeing an evangelist using a version of the "one-ahead" technique to convince churchgoers of his divine powers.
Though defining himself as a conjuror, Randi's career as a professional stage magician and escapologist began in 1946. Initially, he presented himself under his real name, Randall Zwinge, which he later dropped in favor of "The Amazing Randi." Early in his career, he performed numerous escape acts from jail cells and safes around the world. On February 7, 1956, he appeared live on NBC's Today show, where he remained for 104 minutes in a sealed metal coffin that had been submerged in a hotel swimming pool, breaking what was said to be Harry Houdini's record of 93 minutes.
In the late 1960s, Randi hosted The Amazing Randi Show on New York radio station WOR. This radio show, which filled Long John Nebel's old slot with similar content after Nebel went to WNBC in 1962, often invited guests who defended paranormal claims, among them Randi's then-friend James W. Moseley. Randi, in turn, spoke at Moseley's 1967 Fourth Congress of Scientific Ufologists in New York City, stating, "Let's not fool ourselves. There are some garden variety liars involved in all this. But in among all the trash and nonsense perpetrated in the name of Ufology, I think there is a small grain of truth."
Randi also hosted numerous television specials and went on several world tours. As "The Amazing Randi" he appeared regularly on the New York-based children's television series Wonderama from 1959 to 1967. He also hosted a revival of the 1950s children's show The Magic Clown in 1970, though the program enjoyed only a brief life. In the February 2, 1974, issue of the British conjuring magazine Abracadabra, Randi, defining the community of magicians, stated, "I know of no calling which depends so much upon mutual trust and faith as does ours." In the December 2003 issue of The Linking Ring, the monthly publication of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, it is stated, "Perhaps Randi's ethics are what make him Amazing" and "The Amazing Randi not only talks the talk, he walks the walk."
During Alice Cooper's 1973–1974 tour, Randi performed on stage as a dentist and Alice's executioner. He also designed and built several of the stage props, including the guillotine. Shortly after that, in a 1976 performance for the Canadian TV special World of Wizards, Randi escaped from a straitjacket while suspended upside-down over Niagara Falls.
Randi has been accused of actually using "psychic powers" to perform acts such as spoon bending. According to James Alcock, at a meeting where Randi was duplicating the performances of Uri Geller, a professor from the University at Buffalo shouted out that Randi was a fraud. Randi said, "Yes, indeed, I'm a trickster, I'm a cheat, I'm a charlatan, that's what I do for a living. Everything I've done here was by trickery." The professor shouted back: "That's not what I mean. You're a fraud because you're pretending to do these things through trickery, but you're actually using psychic powers and misleading us by not admitting it." A similar event involved Senator Claiborne Pell, a believer in psychic phenomena. When Randi personally demonstrated to Pell that he could reveal a concealed drawing that had been secretly made by the senator simply by using trickery, Pell refused to believe that it was a trick, saying, "I think Randi may be a psychic and doesn't realize it." Randi has consistently denied having any paranormal powers or abilities.
Randi is author of 10 books, among them Conjuring (1992), a biographical history of noted magicians. The book is subtitled: Being a Definitive History of the Venerable Arts of Sorcery, Prestidigitation, Wizardry, Deception, & Chicanery and of the Mountebanks & Scoundrels Who have Perpetrated these Subterfuges on a Bewildered Public, in short, MAGIC! The book's cover says that it is by "James Randi, Esq., A Contrite Rascal Once Dedicated to these Wicked Practices but Now Almost Totally Reformed." The book selects the most influential magicians and tells some of their history in the context of strange deaths and careers on the road. This work expanded on Randi's second book which was called Houdini, His Life and Art. This illustrated work was published in 1976 and was co-authored with Bert Sugar. It focuses on the professional and private life of Houdini.
Randi also wrote a children's book in 1989 titled The Magic World of the Amazing Randi, which introduced children to magic tricks. In addition to his magic books, he has written several educational works about the paranormal and pseudoscientific. These include biographies of Uri Geller and Nostradamus as well as reference material on other major paranormal figures. He is currently working on A Magician in the Laboratory, which recounts his application of skepticism to science. He is a member of the all-male literary banqueting club the Trap Door Spiders, which served as the basis of Isaac Asimov's fictional group of mystery solvers, the Black Widowers.
Randi entered the international spotlight in 1972 when he publicly challenged the claims of Uri Geller. Randi accused Geller of being nothing more than a charlatan and a fraud who used standard magic tricks to accomplish his allegedly paranormal feats, and he presented his claims in the book The Truth About Uri Geller (1982). Geller sued Randi for $15 million in 1991 and lost. Geller's suit against the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) was thrown out in 1995, and he was ordered to pay $120,000 for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Randi also dismissed Uri Geller's claims that he was capable of the kind of psychic photography made famous by the case of Ted Serios. It is a matter, Randi argues, of trick photography using a hand-held optical device. Randi was a founding fellow and prominent member of CSICOP. During the period of Geller's legal dispute, CSICOP's leadership, wanting to avoid becoming a target of Geller's litigation, requested that Randi refrain from commenting on Geller. Randi refused and resigned, though he maintained a respectful relationship with the group, which in 2006 changed its name to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. In 2010, Randi was one of 16 new CSI fellows elected by its board.
Randi has gone on to write several books criticizing beliefs and claims regarding the paranormal. He has also demonstrated flaws in studies suggesting the existence of paranormal phenomena; in his Project Alpha hoax, Randi revealed that he had been able to orchestrate a three-year-long compromise of a privately funded psychic research experiment. The hoax became a scandal and demonstrated the shortcomings of many paranormal research projects at the university level.
Randi has appeared on numerous TV shows, sometimes to directly debunk the claimed abilities of fellow guests. In a 1981 appearance on That's My Line, Randi appeared opposite psychic James Hydrick, who said that he could move objects with his mind and appeared to demonstrate this claim on live television by turning a page in a telephone book without touching it. Randi, having determined that Hydrick was surreptitiously blowing on the book, arranged foam packaging peanuts on the table in front of the telephone book for the demonstration. This prevented Hydrick from demonstrating his abilities, which would have been exposed when the blowing moved the packaging. Randi writes that, eventually, Hydrick "confessed everything."
Randi was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1986. The fellowship's 5-year grant helped support Randi's investigations of faith healers, including W. V. Grant, Ernest Angley, and Peter Popoff, whom Randi first exposed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in February 1986. Hearing about his investigation of Popoff, Carson invited Randi onto his late-night TV show without seeing the evidence he was going to reveal. Carson appeared stunned after Randi showed a brief video segment from one of Popoff's broadcasts showing him calling out a woman in the audience, revealing personal information about her that he claims comes from God, and then performing a laying-on-of-hands healing to drive the devil from her body. Randi then replayed the video, but with some of the sound dubbed in that he and his investigating team captured during the event using a radio scanner and recorder. Their scanner detected the radio frequency Popoff's wife Elizabeth was using backstage to broadcast directions and information to a miniature radio receiver hidden in Popoff's left ear. The information had been gathered by Popoff's assistants, who handed out "prayer cards" to the audience before the show, instructing them to write down all the information Popoff would need to pray for them.
The news coverage generated by Randi's exposé on The Tonight Show led to many TV stations dropping Popoff's TV show, eventually forcing him into bankruptcy in September 1987. However, the televangelist returned to the airwaves a decade later with faith healing infomercials that reportedly pulled in more than $23 million in 2005, from viewers sending in money for promised healing and prosperity. The Canadian Centre for Inquiry's Think Again! TV documented one of Popoff's more recent performances before a large audience who gathered in Toronto on May 26, 2011, hoping to be saved from illness and poverty.
In 1988, Randi tested the gullibility of the media by perpetrating a hoax of his own. By teaming up with Australia's 60 Minutes program and by releasing a fake press package, he built up publicity for a spirit channeler named Carlos who was actually artist Jose Alvarez, whom Randi described as a "friend." Randi would tell him what to say through sophisticated radio equipment. According to the 60 Minutes program on the Carlos hoax, "it was claimed that Alvarez would not have had the audience he did at the Opera House (and the potential sales there from) had the media coverage been more aggressive (and factual)," though an analysis by The Skeptic's Tim Mendham concluded that while the media coverage of Alvarez's appearances was not credulous, "it [the hoax] at least showed that they could benefit by being a touch more sceptical." The hoax was exposed on 60 Minutes; Carlos and Randi explained how they pulled it off.
In the book The Faith Healers, Randi wrote that his anger and relentlessness arises out of compassion for the victims of fraud. Randi has also been critical of João de Deus (John of God), a self-proclaimed psychic surgeon who has received international attention. Randi observed, referring to psychic surgery, "To any experienced conjurer, the methods by which these seeming miracles are produced are very obvious."
In 1982, Randi verified the abilities of Arthur Lintgen, a Philadelphia physician who is able to determine the classical music recorded on a vinyl LP solely by examining the groove on the record. However, Lintgen does not claim to have any paranormal ability, merely knowledge of the way that the groove forms patterns on particular recordings.
In 1988 John Maddox asked Randi to join the supervision of the homeopathy experiment conducted by Jacques Benveniste's team. Once a stricter protocol concerning the experiment was in place, the results could not be reproduced anymore.
James Randi stated that Daniel Dunglas Home, who could allegedly play an accordion that was locked in a cage without touching it, was caught cheating on a few occasions, but the incidents were never made public. He also stated that the accordion in question was a one-octave mouth organ concealed under Home's large moustache and that one-octave mouth organs were found in Home's belongings after his death. According to Randi, William Lindsay Gresham told Randi "around 1960" that he had seen these mouth organs in the Home collection at the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Eric Dingwall, who catalogued Home's collection on its arrival at the SPR does not record the presence of the mouth organs. According to Peter Lamont, the author of an extensive Home biography, "It is unlikely Dingwall would have missed these or did not make them public."
Randi distinguishes between pseudoscience and crackpot science. He regards most of parapsychology as pseudoscience because of the way in which it is approached, but nonetheless sees it as a legitimate science which "must be pursued," and from which real scientific discoveries may develop. Randi regards crackpot science as being as "equally wrong" as pseudoscience, but with no scientific pretensions.
Exploring Psychic Powers... Live was a television show aired live on June 7, 1989, wherein Randi examined several people claiming psychic powers. The show offered $100,000 (Randi's then $10,000 prize plus $90,000 put up by the show's syndicator, LBS Communications, Inc.) to anyone who could demonstrate genuine psychic powers.
In 1996, Randi established the James Randi Educational Foundation. Randi and his colleagues update JREF's blog, Swift. Topics have included the mathematics of the one-seventh area triangle. Randi also contributes a regular column, titled "'Twas Brillig," to The Skeptics Society's Skeptic magazine. In his weekly commentary, Randi often gives examples of what he considers the nonsense that he deals with every day.
He has regularly featured on many podcasts, including The Skeptics Society's official podcast Skepticality and the Center for Inquiry's official podcast Point of Inquiry. From September 2006 onwards, he has occasionally contributed to The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast with a column titled "Randi Speaks." In addition, The Amazing Show is a podcast in which Randi shares various anecdotes in an interview format.
Randi's parents were members of the Anglican Church, but rarely attended services. He went to Sunday School a few times as a child, but decided to stop going when he was told not to question or doubt the teachings of the church.
In his essay "Why I Deny Religion, How Silly and Fantastic It Is, and Why I'm a Dedicated and Vociferous Bright," Randi, who identifies himself as an atheist, has stated that many accounts in religious texts, including the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus Christ, and the parting of the Red Sea by Moses, are not believable. For example, Randi refers to the Virgin Mary as being "impregnated by a ghost of some sort, and as a result produced a son who could walk on water, raise the dead, turn water into wine, and multiply loaves of bread and fishes" and questions how Adam and Eve "could have two sons, one of whom killed the other, and yet managed to populate the earth without committing incest." He writes that, compared to the Bible, "The Wizard of Oz is more believable. And more fun."
In An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (1995), he looks at a variety of spiritual practices skeptically. Of the meditation techniques of Guru Maharaj Ji he writes: "Only the very naive were convinced that they had been let in on some sort of celestial secret." In 2003, he was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto.
The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) offers a prize of US$1,000,000 to eligible applicants who are able to demonstrate a supernatural ability under scientific testing criteria agreed by both sides. Based on the paranormal challenges of John Nevil Maskelyne and Houdini, the foundation began in 1964, when Randi put up $1,000 of his own money payable to anyone who could provide objective proof of the paranormal. The prize money has since grown to $1,000,000, and has formal published rules. For example, no one has progressed past the preliminary test, which is set up with parameters agreed to by both Randi and the applicant. He also refuses to accept any challengers who might suffer serious injury or death as a result of the testing. As of April 1, 2007, only those with an established, nationally-recognized media profile and the backing of a reputable academic were allowed to apply for the challenge, in order to avoid wasting resources on spurious claimants.
On Larry King Live, March 6, 2001, Larry King asked Sylvia Browne if she would take the challenge and she apparently agreed. Randi appeared with Browne on Larry King Live six months later, and she again appeared to accept his challenge. However, according to Randi, she ultimately refused to be tested, and the Randi Foundation kept a clock on its website recording the number of weeks since Browne allegedly accepted the challenge without following through, until Browne's death in November 2013.
During an appearance on Larry King Live on June 5, 2001, Randi challenged Rosemary Altea to undergo testing for the million dollars, but Altea refused to address the question. Instead Altea replied only, "I agree with what he says, that there are many, many people who claim to be spiritual mediums, they claim to talk to the dead. There are many people, we all know this. There are cheats and charlatans everywhere." On January 26, 2007, Altea and Randi again appeared on Larry King Live, and Altea again refused to answer whether or not she would take the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge.
In October 2007, John Edward appeared on Headline Prime, hosted by Glenn Beck; when asked if he would take Randi's challenge, Edward responded, "It's funny. I was on Larry King Live once, and they asked me the same question. And I made a joke [then], and I'll say the same thing here: Why would I allow myself to be tested by somebody who's got an adjective as a first name?"
Randi asked British businessman Jim McCormick, the inventor of the bogus ADE 651 bomb detector, to take the challenge in October 2008. Randi called the ADE 651 "a useless quack device which cannot perform any other function than separating naive persons from their money. It's a fake, a scam, a swindle, and a blatant fraud. Prove me wrong and take the million dollars." There was no response from McCormick. According to Iraqi investigators, the ADE 651, which was corruptly sold to the Baghdad bomb squad, was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians who died as a result of terrorist bombs which were not detected at checkpoints. On April 23, 2013, McCormick was convicted of three counts of fraud at the Old Bailey in London, and was subsequently sentenced to ten years imprisonment for his part in the ADE 651 scandal.
JREF maintains a public log of past participants in the Million Dollar Challenge.
Randi has been involved in a variety of legal disputes but says that he has "never paid even one dollar or even one cent to anyone who ever sued me." However, he says, he has paid out large sums to personally defend himself in these suits.
According to Randi, Geller tried to sue Randi a number of times, accusing him of libel. Geller never won, save for a ruling in a Japanese court that ordered Randi to pay Geller one third of one percent of what Geller had demanded, but this ruling was canceled, and the matter dropped when Geller decided to concentrate on another legal matter.
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In 1991, Randi commented that Uri Geller's public performances were of the same quality as those found on the backs of cereal boxes. Geller sued both Randi and CSICOP. CSICOP argued that the organization was not responsible for Randi's statements. The court agreed that including CSICOP was frivolous and dropped them from the action, leaving Randi to face the action alone. Geller was ordered to pay substantial damages to CSICOP. Randi and Geller subsequently settled their dispute out of court, the details of which have been kept confidential. The settlement also included an agreement that Geller would not pursue Randi for the award in the Japanese case or other outstanding cases.
In 1996, Baltimore District Court found Randi liable for defaming Eldon Byrd for calling him a "convicted child molester" because, although Byrd had been found guilty of child pornography offences and admitted to molestation, the admission was part of a plea bargain so he was not actually convicted. No damages were awarded to Byrd.
Late in 1996, Randi launched a libel suit against a Toronto-area psychic named Earl Gordon Curley. Curley had made multiple objectionable comments about Randi on Usenet. Despite suggesting to Randi on Usenet that Randi should sue – Curley's comments implying that if Randi did not sue, then his allegations must be true – Curley seemed entirely surprised when Randi actually retained Toronto's largest law firm and initiated legal proceedings. The suit was eventually dropped in 1998 when Earl Curley died at the age of 51.
Allison DuBois, on whose life the television series Medium was based, threatened Randi with legal action for using a photo of her from her website in his December 17, 2004, commentary without her permission. Randi removed the photo and now uses a caricature of DuBois when mentioning her on his site, beginning with his December 23, 2005, commentary.
Sniffex, producer of a dowsing bomb detection device, sued Randi and the JREF in 2007 and lost. Sniffex sued Randi for his comments regarding a government test in which the Sniffex device failed. The company was later investigated and charged with fraud.
In 1987, Randi became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Randi has said that one reason he became an American citizen was an incident while on tour with Alice Cooper where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police searched the band's lockers during a performance. Nothing was found, yet the RCMP destroyed the room.
In February 2006, Randi underwent coronary artery bypass surgery. In early February 2006, he was declared to be in stable condition and "receiving excellent care" with his recovery proceeding well. The weekly commentary updates to his website were made by guests while he was hospitalized. Randi recovered after his surgery and was able to help organize and attend the 2007 Amaz!ng Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada (an annual convention of scientists, magicians, skeptics, atheists and freethinkers).
Randi was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in June 2009. He had a ping pong ball-sized tumor removed from his intestines during laparoscopic surgery. He announced the diagnosis a week later at The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 as well as the fact that he was scheduled to begin chemotherapy in the following weeks. He also said at the conference: "One day, I'm gonna die. That's all there is to it. Hey, it's too bad, but I've got to make room. I'm using a lot of oxygen and such – I think it's good use of oxygen myself, but of course, I'm a little prejudiced on the matter." Randi also said that after he is gone he does not want his fans to bother with a museum of magic named after him or burying him in a fancy tomb. Instead, he said, "I want to be cremated, and I want my ashes blown in Uri Geller's eyes." Randi underwent his final chemotherapy session on December 31, 2009, as he explained in a January 12, 2010, video in which he related that his chemotherapy experience was not as unpleasant as he had imagined. In a video posted April 12, 2010, Randi stated that he has been given a clean bill of health.
In a March 21, 2010, blog entry, Randi came out as gay, a move he explained was inspired by seeing the 2008 biographical drama film Milk, in which Sean Penn portrayed Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. During an appearance at the annual skeptics' convention The Amazing Meeting (TAM) on July 12, 2013, Randi announced that he and his partner of 27 years, artist Deyvi Peña, aka José Luis Álvarez, had been married in Washington, D.C., 10 days previously.
The following are Guinness world records:
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