The world’s most famous magicians marked their names down in history by performing and perfecting dangerous and life-threatening acts. However, what viewers believe to be an illusion is not always so. Some of the most stunning magic acts in history have proven to be deadly – literally. Whether these magicians were attempting to defy the laws of nature or outdo their predecessors, they surely ended up a little overly zealous. The following 10 magic acts are truly horrifying given their daring nature and the fact that they ended in death.
The Great Lafayette – Trapped In A Burning Theatre
Sigmund Neuberger or more famously known as “The Great Lafayette” performed one of his most famous acts in Edinburgh in 1911 called The Lion’s Bride. The trick involved Lafayette being sacrificed to a massive 400-pound lion on stage. However, at the last second, Lafayette was supposed to switch places with the lion and reveal himself to be a lion in costume.
The stage was made entirely out of oriental tenting and used Chinese paper lanterns. During the preparations, one of the lanterns caught fire and the whole stage was instantly set aflame. Given that Lafayette was paranoid about his tricks, 3 out of the 4 exits were locked. Eleven people burned in the flames and died including Lafayette himself. His body was found in the blaze and after cremating the corpse it was revealed that another Lafayette was found under stage. It was only then that his trick was figured out – he used a body double and the real Lafayette was actually suffocated under the stage during the fire.
Arnold Buck – Shot In The Head With A Nail
In 1840, magician Arnold Buck was performing one of his shows and decided to invite an audience member to join the stage. The member was given a gun which he had to load and shoot at Buck. However, the audience member had other plans and loaded the gun with nails for a prank. He then shot Buck point blank. The prank turned into a murder too soon and Buck’s face was shredded with metal scraps.
Madame DeLinsky – Bit The Bullet
In 1820, a Polish magician was partaking in the infamous “bullet catch” magic trick. However, the act instead took the life of his wife and assistant, Madame Delinsky. In those days, rifles were loaded by biting the cartridge open, filling gun powder in the barrel and then throwing in the rest of the cartridge. The act involved six soldiers gathering up on stage, loading their rifles and firing at the magician and his wife. Of course, they were to load the rifles with blanks. Unfortunately, one of the soldiers had a panic attack and instead loaded the rifles with the real bullets and shot at Madame DeLinsky, killing her. Her husband was eventually driven insane with the grief of her loss.
Genesta – Trapped In A Milk Can
Royden Joseph Gilbert Raison De La Genesta performed as a Houdini imitator and in 1930, he undertook the famous Houdini milk-can escape. Back in days, milk was transported from farms in human-sized cans. The act involved a hidden trap door which would allow the magician to escape despite the locks sealing the opening. Fatefully though, prior to the act, the can had been dropped, denting the trapdoor rendering it useless. After being submerged for three whole minutes, his wife noticed something was off. The crew was unfamiliar with the locks and took a whole other minute attempting to break it open. By the time Genesta was freed he had passed out. He awoke momentarily only to realize his failure and then passed away soon after.
Charles Rowan – Run Over In A Straitjacket
Charles Rowan, also known as “Karr the Magician,” performed a stunt in 1930 which involved him strapped in a straitjacket and a car accelerating towards him at 45 mph. From 200 yards away he was supposed to execute his escape. Given that Rowan had performed this trick before, he could not anticipate anything going wrong. It was all going as planned only this time he was a fraction of a second late in escaping. The car’s right wheel hit him, killing him in front of the whole crowd.
Jeff Rayburn Hopper – Escaped His Chains But Drowned
In 1984, in Winona Lake, IN, Jeff Rayburn Hopper was practicing for his afternoon show later that day. The act he was performing involved un-handcuffing and unchaining himself while in the middle of the lake. All chained up, he jumped into the water. He actually managed to get all the chains off about 100 yards from shore. At that point, he began bobbing at the surface and yelling for his assistant to help him. The high winds present at the time made it impossible to rescue him. And so, Hopper drowned in only six feet of water.
Chung Ling Soo Was Shot While On Stage
Chung Ling Soo was actually not a Chinese magician at all. In truth he was an assistant called William Robinson to another magician. He tried replicating an act by the famous Ching Ling Foo Chinese magician. He fell victim to the “bullet catch” act when he accidentally left behind gun powder in the gun while cleaning it out. This caused the gun to fire an actual bullet, killing him.
He managed to pull off his Chinese persona very well and used an interpreter at all times. Even on stage, he ever spoke. However, when the unfortunate accident happened, he broke character and blurted, “Oh my God. Something’s happened. Lower the curtain.”
Vivian Hensley – Swallowed A Rusty Razor Blade
A dentist from Australia, Vivian Hensley, enjoyed showing off with magic tricks despite not being a professional magician. One of his favorite tricks was the one which involved swallowing an old razor blade. In 1938, he attempted the trick to his wife and son. The real act was to pretend to swallow the razor while slipping it in his sleeve. However, this time he accidentally dropped the razor in his mouth and swallowed it.
He had to be rushed to the hospital and several surgeries were performed after feeding him cotton wool. However, they could not quite locate it. Hensley passed away a few days later.
Balabrega – Blew Up Himself And His Assistant
A Swedish magician, Johan Miller, who also went by “Balabrega” on stage was on tour in Brazil in 1900. He decided to enact “The Moth and the Flame” trick which made use of pyrotechnics. The act was to make to make six women, who wore moth costumes, vanish into a candle flame. As a gas supply was needed to perform the act, and it was not available in abundance back then, Miller instead purchased gas bags of acetylene as an alternative.
As they were easily transportable too it seemed like a great plan. However, when preparing for the show, one of the gas bags exploded spontaneously. Balabrega and his assistant was blown to smithereens all over the cast and crew. The blast also severely injured his manager.
The “Amazing” Joe Burrus – Buried Alive
Magician Joe Burrus was greatly inspired by Harry Houdini and attempted to outdo his legendary “buried alive” trick. On Houdini’s death anniversary on Halloween in 1990, Burrus attempted the magic trick at an amusement park. He was duly handcuffed, chained and locked inside a plastic and glass coffin. He was then lowered into a seven-foot hole and had seven tons of dirt and wet cement poured on top of his coffin. Before Burrus could even begin attempting the grand escape, the weight of the cement and dirt broke the coffin. It collapsed in onto Burrus, killing him instantly.
Sometimes it is necessary to let your daredevil take the backseat and focus on a more realistic approach of scenarios. Everyone loves a dangerous magic act but if it ends in suicide, murder or manslaughter, we are all better off without it. Some of the most cherished magicians met their demise while trying reckless tricks that obviously had no safe way about them.