(24th March 1874 - 31st October 1926)
Born in Pest, Hungary. Stage name of Ehrich Weiss (born Erik Weisz). Of Hungarian-Jewish parents, his father being a rabbi. Brought to USA later that spring when the family name was henceforward spelled Weiss and his first name was re-spelled Ehrich.
At age 9 saw his first magician (Dr Lynn). Moved to New York City in 1888 when taught his first sleight-of-hand tricks by friends Jake Hyman and Joe Rinn. Inspired to become a professional by reading Robert-Houdin's Memoirs in 1890 and then in 1891, at Hyman's suggestion, adopted 'Houdini' as stage name.
Without doubt, the most famous magician in history. To escape a life of poverty reinvented himself as magician Harry Houdini, King of Cards and Handcuff King. To survive in vaudeville, Houdini invented the Escape Challenge, daring spectators to handcuff or tie him in unusual knots and devices - and Houdini was always able to escape. A public relations genius far ahead of his time, Houdini created the image of the living superhero, escaping from straitjackets, bonds and jails. Houdini changed his direction in the early 1900s, abandoning the Challenge (sadistic policemen were caught on several occasions trying to shackle Houdini with hopelessly jammed cuffs) in favor of the straightforward escape. The Metamorphosis (in which he changed places with his wife Bess, who was locked inside a trunk), the Milk Can (in which he was locked inside a metal can full of liquid) and the Water Torture Cell (in which he was shackled upside down inside a tank full of water) were his most famous onstage escape illusions. Houdini again changed direction after 1913, when his mother died. Heavy with grief, Houdini turned to spirit mediums in an effort to contact his mother, and was shocked to find that the mediums were nothing more than frauds using magic tricks to con their victims. Furious, Houdini launched a passionate crusade to expose spirit mediums by actually performing their "miracles" and then exposing them as a part of his stage show. Houdini died unexpectedly in 1926 on Halloween from peritonitis. Houdini had been suffering the symptoms of appendicitis for several days when he was punched in the stomach several times by a McGill University student who was testing Houdini's ability to withstand blows. The punches ruptured the already distressed appendix, and Houdini's refusal to seek medical attention for another several days caused the fatal infection. Houdini had been planning a spectacular illusion called Buried Alive, in which he was to remain sealed in a buried coffin for an extended period before escaping. The coffin was on tour with him when he died, and his body was shipped home in it. Though Houdini was most known as an escape artist and magician, he also owned his own movie company, making several films in which he, of course, starred. He also held a U.S. patent for an improved diving suit, and was the first pilot to fly solo in Australia.