Entertainer. Considered one of the most legendary magician and escape artists in American history, he was born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, the son of a rabbi and religious teacher. When he was about four, his family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where he grew up. When he was about 8 years old, he sold newspapers and worked as a bootblack to help support his poor family. When his father took him to see a traveling magician, his interest in magic and in performing took off, and shortly after his family moved to New York City, he began to study magic. After reading about the famous magician, Robert-Houdin (1805 to 1871), he took the stage name, Harry Houdini, in honor of Houdin. When his father died in 1890, Harry Houdini began working full time at amusement parks, museums, and theaters, trying his hand at magic and escape attempts. In July 1894, he married Beatrice "Bess" Raymond, a struggling singer and dancer, and she became the love of his life. After perfecting many escapes, he began to work the vaudeville theaters, and proving to his critics that he could escape any restraint. Adding danger to his escape increased the audience suspense, and he took risks that most escape artists would shy away from. This only increased the audience's appreciation of his work. Many of his tricks involved being cast under water, with the threat of suffocation, but he always came through. Many of his greatest escapes still defy explanation even today. In the last years of his life, he formed the Houdini Motion Picture Corporation, which made numerous silent films, many of them featuring Houdini in one of his escapes. In the early 1920s, spiritualism became a great interest in the country, and after researching it himself, Harry became convinced that most of the practitioners were frauds, and he spent much of his time debunking the fakes. On October 22, 1926, while in Montreal, Canada, giving a lecture on spiritualism, he was asked by a college student if he could withstand a blow to the stomach. Before he could prepare himself for the blow, the student suddenly hit him three times, the last blow rupturing his appendix. Harry thought he would recover, and went on to perform several times over the next few days. By the time he was properly diagnosed, it was too late, and he died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix on October 31. Houdini memorabilia remains popular even today, and commands a good price in auctions.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson