The quintessential honest liar, James Randi spent his long life dispelling the paranormal and calling out the unexplained. A true original.
As a single entity, James Randi was a misnomer. A heralded magician, a profession defined by fooling the audience, and protecting the lies that made it possible; but he spent his life waging a one-man crusade against psychics, faith healers, and fortune-tellers, famously offering a million dollars to anyone who can prove that paranormal actually existed.
Hilariously, his boast outlived the man who uttered it, as Randi may have died yesterday, but the money is still waiting to be claimed.
Another picture from the last day I spent with Randi. I talked to him a couple times after this. My inspiration, my hero, my mentor, my friend. I will talk to him the rest of my life and my memory of him will answer. I didn’t absorb enough wisdom, but I absorbed a lot. pic.twitter.com/8oerQO59m9
— Penn Jillette (@pennjillette) October 22, 2020
Randi’s other claim to fame (other than escaping from a straightjacket while hanging upside down over Niagara Falls) was the depantsing of Uri Geller in 1972. He was on hand to help NBC’s Tonight Show prepare for an appearance by the illusionist best known for bending spoons. Interestingly, with Geller being unable to access the props before the show, he was unable to manipulate the cutlery before him and the live television audience.
Personally, his greatest feat of daring was spicing up the dour world of the TED talk by taking a fatal dose of homoeopathic sleeping pills, before continuing to rattle off punchlines.
As the story goes, his life’s work was inspired after a visit to a church as a teenager. On the pulpit, a preacher was pretending the read the minds of those in the audience. Randi saw through it. In 1986, he told WHYY’s Fresh Air that he saw “people there weeping real tears and getting very emotionally disturbed and believing that this man had supernatural powers.”
So he walked up on stage, interrupted the performance, and showed the audience the workings of the trick. The preacher’s wife called the police, and Randi spent the next four hours in a cell.
“I made up my mind during the four hours that there would come a day that I would have the prestige, the knowledge, the platform on which to stand to denounce these people, if they were fake,” said Randi.
In a time where pseudoscience and consumerist fakery is extremely visible, The Amazing Randi is absolutely gone too soon.