The top ten illusionists is a difficult list to procure. Opinions vary widely with whomever you ask coming up with different names and different orders. This list is thus based on merit, fame, notable performances, awards received, and influence of their career on other performers. Illusionists that did not make our top ten, but are worthy to mention include but are not limited to: Mark Wilson, Paul Daniels, Mac King, Criss Angel, Alexander Herrmann, Ricky Jay, Harry Blackstone, Sr., The Pendragons, Jeff McBride and of course Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin who is considered the world’s first magician. Who’s your favorite?
10. Cyril Takayama
Cyril is a fresh, new illusionist who has already made a name for himself. He has proven to be exceptionally skilled at sleight of hand magic and shocking object manipulation. While extremely popular in Japan, Cyril has taken well advantage of today’s technology, uploading his performances on YouTube and has thus built a worldwide reputation. His most popular tricks include the hamburger in the menu, his head drop, and the card through window. Cyril is known as magic’s first cyber celebrity. He has also made several television appearances and performed a number of specials in several countries.
9. Hans Klok
Hans Klok is known as the Fastest Magician in the World. In 2012, he broke his own world record, performing a total of 12 large-scale stage illusions in a short, five minute period on live television. He is a true performer of the magical arts and has won a plethora of worldwide awards including the Henk Vermeijden Cup, Grand Prix of the Netherlands, second place in “illusionism” at the Magic World Championship, and first prize at the International Magic Fachkongress in Germany. He is also recognized as a Gold Star member of the Inner Circle, a prestigious distinction awarded by the Magic Circle. Carmen Electra and Pamela Anderson have worked as his assistants. He currently has his own stage show in the Netherlands, the Houdini Experience.
8. Franz Harary
Franz Harary is not only an illusionist, but also an illusion-designer. He is famously known for his manipulation and transportation of architecture, such as levitating the Taj Mahal and vanishing the Sphinx and the Space Shuttle. He started doing magic for his college sporting events and eventual graduated to the 1989 Superbowl. Franz is considered the magician who brought magic back to live concert performances. Franz’s big break came when he became the illusion designer for Michael Jackson’s 1984 Victory Tour. Today, every magic show in Las Vegas features at least some element of Franz Harary’s illusion designs. In 2008, he received the Best Escape Artist award.
7. Siegfried and Roy
Siegfried combined his love of magic with Roy’s love of the big cats to create an amazing duo and beautifully crafted illusion show. They worked together for almost 50 years, receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and were ultimately bestowed the prestigious Magicians of the Year award. Sadly, Roy was bitten by his tiger, Montecore, during a 2003 performance at The Mirage which prompted the end of the duos magic career. There are disputes of whether the big cat was actually attacking Roy or simply dragging Roy to safety after a misstep. Regardless, the cat caused critical harm to Roy’s neck. Montecore retired with the duo in a touching final farewell performance in 2009. This tiger attack sparked publicity with animal activists to call for a stop on using animals in entertainment even if they are being cared for humanely. Siegfried and Roy have since opened the Secret Garden, a big cat sanctuary providing exceptional animal care to all its residents in support of their protection and preservation in the wild.
6. Penn and Teller
Penn and Teller are a well-known magician duo specializing in the fantastical. They combine their stage trickery with a comedic story element. Penn speaks the stories during performances while Teller’s trademark is to remain silent throughout their shows. Teller is also usually the one getting straitjacketed, submerged, or run over during many of their performances. They enjoy gory stage effects and are known for shocking their audience. The duo has been featured on a number of shows such as Saturday Night Live, Late Show and their own Broadway performances and television series. They have been conjointly awarded as Magician of the Year.
5. Lance Burton
Lance Burton is a stage magician known for his exception skill and precision that he consistently brings to his performances. He has made television appearances on popular shows such as The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and has starred in his own television specials. Lance has been bestowed the Magician of the Year award and won a number of magic competitions including the Grande Prix. He received the Gold Medal of Excellence from the International Brotherhood of Magicians, being the first American and the youngest magician to have ever been given this award. The Lance Burton Theatre was built specifically for his show at the Monte Carlo Resort in Las Vegas. He is under the longest contract for any entertainer in all of Las Vegas history.
4. Doug Henning
Doug Henning is a cheerful Canadian illusionist with a wealth of magical skills including misdirection, escapology and mentalism. He is thought to be highly influential in bringing magic back to a theatrical art. His Broadway show, The Magic Show, was popular in the 1970s. He then brought his magic to television through Doug Henning’s World of Magic, an NBC show broadcasted annually from 1975 to 1982. Henning’s show received several Emmy award nominations. He was also awarded Magician of the Year. In the 1980s, he retired from the stage and died from liver cancer in 2000. Henning has since received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.
3. David Blaine
David Blaine is a street performer known for his up-close, personal performances and endurance feats. Through his street acts, he has changed the way magic is performed on television by carrying out simple tricks yet focusing on the audience and their reactions. His signature move is when he levitates himself in front of mystified onlookers. He is often compared to the great, late Harry Houdini for his endurance accomplishments. Notable endurance performances include Buried Alive, Vertigo, Frozen in Time, Drowned Alive, Above the Below, and the Bullet Catch. Blaine broke the Guinness World Record for oxygen assisted static apnea in 2008 holding his breath for over 17 minutes. He has been awarded Magician of the Year. Blaine is also well known for his generous charity support.
2. David Copperfield
David Copperfield is the most commercially successful magician in history, selling more tickets than any other solo entertainer. He is best known for his combination of storytelling and illusion. He was named Magician of the Year twice as well as Magician of the Millennium, Magician of the Century and King of Magic. Copperfield won 21 Emmy Awards and holds 11 Guinness World Records. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He received knighthood by the French government and was even named a Living Legend by the US Library of Congress. For all of Copperfield’s recognitions, the number one spot still goes to the most influential of all illusionists…
1. Harry Houdini
Born Ehrich Weiss, Harry Houdini took his stage name from Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, the world’s first magician. Harry Houdini has influenced countless magicians since his time including many, if not all, on this list. Due to his continued impact even after his death, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. The numerous magic tricks that he developed are still used by today’s magicians. As an exceptional escape artist, Houdini utilized his skills in lock picking and escaping straitjackets when developing his routines. His most popular performances include the Chinese Water Torture Cell (in which his legs were locked and he was lowered upside down into a water cell with the audience’s full view of him) and the Metamorphosis (where he is locked in a chest and swaps with his assistant in an instance at a sudden flash of light or misdirection). Many illusionists today perform reproductions of these (and other) Houdini classics.