• Unspeakable Times

These Doomed Magic Acts That Ended In Tragedy

Many of the world's most famous magicians have made a name for themselves by perfecting the illusion of danger onstage. Before modern sensations like Criss Angel and David Blaine, illusionists such as Houdini were performing stunts that shocked and mesmerized the public. But sometimes, these performances are not illusions at all - and some of these magic tricks have even proven to be deadly. These magicians - dating back to the 1800s - were often trying to outdo their predecessors or defy the laws of nature when their stunts took a turn for the worse. Their dedication to the craft may have been overzealous, and they met their demise - and sometimes took others down with them - thanks to magic tricks gone awry. 


  • Vivian Hensley Swallowed A Razor Blade

    Photo: Anonymous 1938 / via History Things / Public Domain

    Vivian Hensley wasn't a professional magician - he was actually a dentist from Australia. But that didn't stop him from performing a few tricks to his wife and son in 1938, specifically the trick that involved swallowing a razor blade. In Hensley's original stunt, he pretended to drop the blade down his throat while secretly stashing it up his sleeve. But he slipped up and accidentally swallowed the instrument.

    Hensley's doctor fed him some cotton wool and performed an operation to attempt to locate the razor. Surgeons weren't able to find it, and Hensley passed from his injuries a few days later.

  • The 'Amazing' Joe Burrus Was Buried Alive

    Video: YouTube

    Magician Joe Burrus wanted to outdo magic legend and personal hero, Harry Houdini, who had nearly died while performing a "buried alive" trick. So, on Halloween 1990 - the anniversary of Houdini's death - Burrus attempted his own version of the trick at an amusement park. He was handcuffed, wrapped in chains, locked inside of a plastic and glass coffin, and lowered into a 7-foot hole - at which point, his crew threw seven tons of dirt and wet cement on top of the coffin. 

    Before he could even attempt his escape, the weight of the mixture broke the coffin and collapsed onto Burrus, who immediately passed from his injuries.

  • Chung Ling Soo Was Shot While On Stage

    Photo: Henry Ridgely Evans 1906 / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    As another victim of the "bullet catch," Chung Ling Soo was shot and killed during his performance of "Condemned to Death by Boxer," in 1918. The performer failed to properly clean out the gun, and residual gunpowder ended up firing an actual bullet. This famous Chinese magician wasn't actually Chinese at all. He was originally a magician's assistant named William Robinson, who had an awkward stage presence.

    His solution was to copy the act of a Chinese magician named Ching Ling Foo. He then used the persona as a way to avoid speaking during performances and even continued the act off-stage, using an interpreter everywhere he went. When he was shot, he broke character and spoke out in English for the first time, saying: "Oh my God. Something’s happened. Lower the curtain." 

  • Jeff Rayburn Hopper Escaped His Chains But Drowned

    In 1984, Jeff Rayburn Hopper was rehearsing a trick for his afternoon show in Winona Lake, IN. His trick involved escaping from chains while submerged in open water. He jumped into the water about 100 yards from shore and actually managed to get all of his chains off. However, he started popping up to the surface yelling to his assistant for help.

    High winds at the time made rescuing him impossible, and he drowned in just 6 feet of water