One year ago today, the 20th of October, 2020, the Amazing Randi died. A loss for us all.
I wrote about him some years ago. And I use that reflection as the basis for this remembrance.
Randall James Hamilton Zwinge was born in Toronto, Ontario, on the 7th of August, 1928. In later years as a performer his name was shortened to the more marquee friendly James Randi. Me, I like his magicians’ name best, the Amazing Randi.
And he was.
After seeing the renowned Harry Blackstone Sr perform, he determined to become a stage magician. At seventeen he dropped out of school to become a full timer performer with a carnival roadshow. Soon he added escapologist to his skill sets. He also began to work as a “mentalist” at night clubs in the Toronto area. Possibly because he saw people doing his type of magic, but claiming it was real, he turned his attention to what he insists is “investigation,” although based on what he finds, most have called his work “debunking.”
Randi made headlines in 1972 when he exposed the self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller as a fraud. Geller pursued Randi with litigation, but his claims were dismissed as frivolous in court. Truth, it turns out, is a defense agains allegations of slander.
Randi would go on to help form the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, later renamed the Committee for Skeptical Investigation, which continues the critical work of rubbing the public’s nose in fraudulent and specious claims about the nature of the real world in which we live.
The Wikipedia article about Randi says he “distinguishes between pseudoscience and crackpot science. He regards most of parapsychology as pseudoscience because of the way in which it is approached and conducted, but nonetheless sees it as a legitimate science that ‘must be pursued’, and from which real scientific discoveries may develop. Randi regards crackpot science as being as ‘equally wrong’ as pseudoscience, but with no scientific pretensions.”
A signer of the 2003 update of the Humanist Manifesto, he has been equally critical of most religious claims. Of the Bible, for instance he has said, “The Wizard of Oz is more believable. And much more fun.”
In 2010, inspired at least in part by the film Milk, he publicly announced he was gay. In 2013, he and what in an earlier generation would be called his long-time companion, the artist Devi Orangel Pena Arteaga, were married. In 2014 a film biography of him, Honest Liar, was released to critical acclaim.
In summary, the Amazing Randi was a persistent thorn in the side of pretty much everyone who makes assertions about the world that don’t actually jibe with what can be observed and measured. Along with, of course, a good eye for out-right trickery. In short he lived a worthy life.
From my perspective he was a gift to our society. Who knows, maybe even a gift from God…
May he be remembered…