Many of the world's most famous magicians have made a name for themselves by perfecting the illusion of danger onstage. But sometimes it turns out these performances are not illusions at all - and some of these magic tricks have even proven to be deadly. These killer magicians were often trying to outdo their predecessors or defy the laws of nature when their stunts unfortunately took a turn for the worse. Their dedication to their craft turned out to be a tad overzealous, and they met their demise (and sometimes took others down with them) thanks to magic tricks gone wrong. What's wrong with just doing a nice card trick, you guys?
Read on to learn the bold, crazy, and very stupid ways that magicians have accidentally killed themselves or their faithful assistants before they could even say "abracadabra."
WARNING: Graphic video content.
Genesta Trapped Himself In A Milk Can
Royden Joseph Gilbert Raison De La Genesta really had too long of a name to be in the entertainment industry, but nonetheless performed as a Houdini imitator. In 1930, Genesta attempted a famous Houdini trick: the milk-can escape. For those of you who don't drink your milk out of a human-sized can, this was actually how milk was transported from farms at the time.
Genesta's milk-can escape involved a secret trap door that allowed him to escape despite the locks on the can's opening. What he didn't know, however, is that the milk can had been dropped en route, and the escape door was dented and no longer functioned. He was submerged in the milk can for three minutes before his wife realized something was wrong. Not used to using the locked door, the crew took another fateful minute to open the padlocks, and after momentarily regaining consciousness only to realize his failure, Genesta passed away.
Charles Rowan Was Run Over In A Straitjacket
Back in 1930, Charles Rowan, AKA "Karr the Magician," performed a stunt where he strapped himself into a straitjacket and had a car accelerate toward him at 45 mph and from 200 yards away as he executed his escape. What could go wrong?
Rowan had actually performed the trick before, but this time he was a fraction of a second too late, and was struck by the car's right wheel, killing him in front of a large crowd of spectators, including children. A great show for the whole family!
Madame DeLinsky Bit The Bullet (Literally)
In 1820, a Polish magician lost his wife and unborn child while performing the infamous "bullet catch" trick. During the act, his wife and assistant, Madame Delinsky, was fired at while on stage.
Back in the day, rifles were loaded by biting open the cartridge, pouring gun powder in the barrel, and then inserting the rest of the cartridge. Six soldiers were invited onstage to load their guns; in reality, they were paid "shills" who had been instructed to actually bite the entire bullet and fire blanks instead. One of them, however, got a bit of stage fright, and accidentally loaded his gun business as usual. He then shot the pregnant Madame Delinsky on stage and killed her, eventually driving her husband mad. Despite sounding suspiciously like the plot of The Prestige, this actually happened IRL.
The Great Lafayette Was Trapped In A Burning Theatre
In 1911, "The Great Lafayette" (otherwise known as Sigmund Neuberger) was performing one of his most famous acts called The Lion's Bride in Edinburgh. In the trick, Lafayette was to be sacrificed to a giant 400 pound lion on stage. At the last second, however, Lafayette was to switch places and reveal himself to be in costume as the lion.
Unfortunately, much of his stage decor was made up of oriental tenting and Chinese paper lanterns, as old-school magicians loved themselves some cultural appropriation. One such lantern caught fire during the act, and the entire stage became engulfed in flames. Lafayette was so paranoid about his tricks that three of the four exits backstage were locked, leaving only one exit open to his large cast and crew. Eleven people died, including Lafayette, who reportedly escaped and then returned to the blaze to save his beloved horse. However, after cremating his badly burned body, they found Lafayette's body again under a trap door beneath the stage. It was only then that Lafayette's secret was revealed: he used a body double and the real Lafayette had been stuck under the stage during the fire.