Last week we brought you a short summary of the early life of Harry Houdini, born Ehrich Weisz, who emigrated to the United States and became the world’s most famous magician and escape artist! This week we’ll look at his later years and untimely death. Houdini achieved a level of success due to his unique escape acts, which he was forced to continue diversifying due to copycats and plagiarism. For the first decade of the 1900s build international acclaim on the back of his daring and dramatic escape performances. He began to use more than simply shackles or strait jackets and began escaping whilst suspended upside down or enclosed in a nailed-shut coffin or a sealed milk can.
One of his most famous acts, debuted in 1912, was the Chinese Water Torture Cell. The cell – essentially a huge glass box – would be filled to the brim with water and Houdini would be lowered in, suspended upside down by his feet and restrained in a strait jacket. He had to hold his breath for over three minutes to complete this escape and it was so popular that he kept this act on his regular roster until his death.
Houdini achieved such fame and success that he was able to turn his attention to non-magical activities and hobbies he wished to pursue. In 1910, after a few failed attempts, he succeeded in flying over Australia in an attempt to be the first man to do so, a title he missed out on by just a few months. Houdini also starred in and produced many movies, and even launched his own production companies, but none found huge success.
In his later career, Houdini used his standing in the magic world to root out and expose fraudulent psychics and mediums. He famously debunked the works of his own chosen namesake, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin and penned several books on the topic. This turned his friend, famous author and inventor of Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, against him due to Doyle’s affinity with the occult.
Houdini’s untimely demise came about under tragic circumstances. Known for his belly’s iron constitution, Houdini often offered bystanders the opportunity to punch him in the stomach as hard as they could. On one fateful evening one of the students at McGill University caught him off guard with a punch and he fell very ill over the course of the following few days, even collapsing on stage. Houdini died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix on October 31st, 1926. It is unclear whether the rupture was caused by the punch or whether it merely exacerbated an existing condition. Thus, somewhat unceremoniously, ended the magical life of Harry Houdini, who had gone from nameless immigrant to circus performer to a world-famous magician, author, and pilot.
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