Doug Henning (1947-2000)
"Doug Henning was a cheerful pop-culture icon of the 1970s. His chipmunk grin and dangling hair had become as ubiquitous as the Farrah Fawcett bathing-suit poster.
Henning was not only the best known magician in the world, he is often credited as reviving magic as a popular theatrical art form."
Douglas James Henning
Magician, Illusionist, Escape Artist
Place of Birth
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. North America
Doug Henning possessed the uncanny ability of superior showmanship and sleight-of-hand skills. Henning is a specialist in all areas of magic, including close-up, stage illusions, mentalsim, and escapolgy. Henning is also a master of misdirection, and studied under Tony Slydini "The Master of Misdirection."
Henning suffered a collapsed lung while attending a magic convention in Vancouver. The incident was the result of a congenital ailment.
In three months he underwent 13 unsuccessful attempts to permanently reinflate his lungs. He lost 35 pounds, became addicted to morphine, the painkiller he was given, and came to realize "there was a chance I was going to die." Then a 14th try succeeded.
Doug Henning was born May 3, 1947 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Henning was bitten by the magic bug at the age of 6, after watching Richiardi on the Ed Sullivan show levitating a woman in mid-air.
Young Henning began studying books on magic at his local library and and begun to build magic props out of cardboard and construction paper.
Shortly after his father built him a magicians table, fourteen-year-old Henning was paid $5 to perform his first show at a friend's birthday party.
Exhilarated by the audiences response, he wanted to take his talents a step further and placed an ad with the local paper under the headline: "Magician, Have Rabbit, Will Travel." He also made business cards with the name "The Great Hendoo" printed on them.
He frequently attended magic gatherings such as the "Hat & Rabbit Club." He booked shows entertaining at parties and made appearances on local television in Toronto.
After graduating high school, Doug Henning attended McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where he decided to get into the medical field.
Henning studied psychology, acting, mime and dance, and applied this knowledge to his personal studies in magic.
Aside from his schooling, he continued to perform shows, entertaining at High school assemblies, and promoting himself with a photo of henning levitating his sister.
After graduating with a degree in psychology from McMaster College, Henning was awarded a Canada Council for the Arts grant from the Canadian government to study magic. His goals of becoming a doctor quickly diminished.
Using the $4,000 awarded him, Henning went on a trek to observe and study the the great juggernauts in magic, such as Slydini and Dai Vernon.
In the early 1970s, Henning began performing full-time and even took out a $5,000 loan to commence building and designing stage illusions and props.
Henning's goal was to bring magic back to the "good 'ol days," when it was more of a theatrical art.
With that concept in mind, he spent months honing and perfecting his craft, and in the end he developed his theatrical new show.
"Spellbound," was born; a musical directed by Ivan Reitman, with music by Howard Shore and co-starring Jennifer Dale.
The show, combining a dramatic story and Henning's illusions, hit the stage and broke every box office ticket record in Toronto.
In May 1974, Henning reworked the show after catching the attention of New York producers, and took it to Broadway as "The Magic Show." The show ran for four and a half years, and earned Henning a Tony Award nomination.
During his run of The Magic Show on Broadway, he performed regularly at casinos in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe.
In 1975, he was asked by the producers at NBC to star in his own television special.
Doug Henning's World of Magic premiered to 50 million viewers as Henning honored escape king Harry Houdini by performing his version of the "Water Torture Escape" before a live studio audience.
The show broadcasted annually from 1975 to 1982 earning him seven Emmy nominations.
Henning moved to Los Angeles in 1976, and developed his own production company that produced stage effects for music artists such as Earth, Wind and Fire and Michael Jackson.
Henning divorced self-help author Barbara De Angelis in 1981, and married Debby Douillard in Fairfield, Iowa in December of that year.
In 1983, Henning starred in his second acclaimed Broadway show, "Merlin," earning him five Tony nominations.
In 1984 Henning began a solo show on Broadway called "Doug Henning and His World of Magic."
In the mid 1980s, Henning retired from the stage and sold some of his most popular illusions to illusionist David Copperfield.
In his retirement, Henning was the Natural Law Party candidate in England’s general election.
He was Senior Vice President of the Natural Law Party of Canada, and ran as the party's candidate for the former Toronto riding of Rosedale in the 1993 federal election.
Fascinated with the practice of transcendental meditation, Henning dedicated much of his time and energy in later years to the foundation of a $1.5 billion theme park called "Maharishi Veda Land."
The park, which would be located near Niagara Falls, Ontario, was still in the planning stages when Henning was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1999.
Doug Henning died in February 2000, at the age of 52, in Los Angeles. He was survived by his wife Debby Douillard.
On October 16, Henning received a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.
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