James Randi

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Person.png James Randi  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(magician, debunker)
James Randi.jpg
BornRandall James Hamilton Zwinge
7 August 1928
Died20 October 2020 (Age 92)
Founder ofJames Randi Educational Foundation

James Randi was a Canadian-American stage magician[1][2][3] and scientific skeptic[4][5] who extensively challenged paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.[6] He was the co-founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), and founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). He began his career as a magician under the stage name The Amazing Randi and later chose to devote most of his time to investigating paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims, which he collectively called "woo-woo".[7] Randi retired from practising magic at age 60, and from his foundation at 87.

Although often referred to as a "debunker", Randi said he disliked the term's connotations and preferred to describe himself as an "investigator".[8] He wrote about paranormal phenomena, skepticism, and the history of magic. He was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, famously exposing fraudulent faith healer Peter Popoff, and was occasionally featured on the television program Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

Before Randi's retirement, JREF sponsored the "One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge", which offered a prize of one million US dollars to eligible applicants who could demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties.[9] In 2015, the James Randi Educational Foundation said they would no longer accept applications directly from people claiming to have a paranormal power, but would offer the challenge to anyone who has passed a preliminary test that meets with their approval.[10]

Tributes

On 22 October 2020, Josh Milton of the Pink News wrote:

Randi’s MO was simple – to dazzle and to amaze, but never to lie.

Throughout his career he escaped from: a straitjacket while dangling above Niagara Falls, another while hanging from six stories above Broadway; a block of ice; a sealed coffin and a jail cell, to name a few – all well into his 50s.

In surviving 104 minutes inside a sealed coffin submerged in a pool while live on the Today show in 1956, he bested a record held by Harry Houdini.

Throughout it all he was transparent about his trickery, ending shows by telling audiences:

“Everything you have seen here is tricks. There is nothing supernatural involved.”

He became most famous for disproving pseudoscience, and took aim at a number of illusionists including spoon-bender Uri Geller.

In an infamous segment on The Tonight Show in 1973, Randi watched Geller struggle to twist metal keys and spoons. He said he had advised the show’s producers to ensure Geller had no access to the supplied props, with the incident igniting a decades-long feud between the two.[11]

On 25 October 2020, Catherine Bennett wrote in the Observer:

Among many tributes to the great James Randi, who died last week aged 92, one stands out. Hours after the death was announced, cutlery expert Uri Geller reacted with a tweet he piously expanded on Facebook:

“How sad that Randi died with hatred in his soul. Love to you all.”

One thing that the most professional paranormalist may find it hard to conceal, you gather, is indecent glee. Geller’s public gloat has, however, ensured that many people who might never otherwise have viewed his televised humbling in 1973, at the height of media credulity about his claimed paranormal talent, will now have witnessed the spectacle of his inexplicably interrupted powers. Randi had advised the producers to supply their own props. Even supreme rationalists, it turns out, can exact vengeance after death.[12]

Own words

In February 2001, the New York Times reported:

James Randi, often billed as The Amazing Randi, has succeeded where scientists have not in exposing those claiming supernatural powers. A magician by training, he knows the trick of making the hands of a watch move without touching it, of divining information in a sealed envelope, of causing a statue of the Virgin Mary to weep:

"I'm a liar, a cheat and a charlatan," declares Mr Randi, an impish man with a bushy, white beard, but "at least I know it."[13]


References

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