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10 Epic Magic Trick Failures


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Uri Geller's "Tonight Show" Spoon Bending
Uri Geller returned to the "Tonight Show" stage in 2000 to amaze Jay Leno, 27 years after former host Johnny Carson asked another magician to debunk Geller's abilities. Paul Drinkwater/NBC/Getty Images
Uri Geller returned to the "Tonight Show" stage in 2000 to amaze Jay Leno, 27 years after former host Johnny Carson asked another magician to debunk Geller's abilities. Paul Drinkwater/NBC/Getty Images

You could almost feel bad for illusionist Uri Geller, except that his failed "Tonight Show" performance launched him to superstardom [source: Higginbotham]. The magician's act was all about his psychic abilities. It included tricks like spoon-bending and using his psychic powers to find water, and skeptic magician James Randi was determined to expose him as a fraud.

Randi is a self-described scientific investigator. He was appalled at how easily people were duped by his own staged psychic feats and became determined to expose others. He offered a prize of $1,000 to any illusionist who could scientifically prove their own powers as real. Over the years, Randi increased that reward to $10,000, but even with that much money on the table few magicians were willing to undergo his scrutiny [source: Higginbotham].

In the early 1970s, Randi turned his attentions to Geller. He worked with Time magazine to expose Geller's tricks, and when Geller was due to perform on the "Tonight Show" in 1973, Johnny Carson asked Randi to help make sure that Geller couldn't use misdirection in his act. Randi kept all of Geller's people away from the set before the performance, and without their help, Geller's act was a flop. During his segment, you can see Geller hedging as his tricks go awry on live television. He left humiliated [source: Higginbotham].

The real magic happened after the filming was done, though. Geller's embarrassment won viewers over, and believers said that his failure only proved that his act was real. After all, if he were using trickery, he'd never have an off night, right? Geller booked more TV appearances, including a 2000 return to the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno as host, and his feud with Randi continued for years afterward [source: Higginbotham].