On Friday, magic lost one of its brightest lights to depression. A magician who typically went just by Daryl (like Madonna or Cher) committed suicide at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. Unfortunately, there have been some nasty fabrications that have crept their way into the story — there really is such a thing as fake news. But the truth is he is gone, and that's tragic.
When I was first beginning my studies in magic, someone recommended that I torrent a television special by some new guy called David Blaine. Anyone who remembers those days knows that files were frequently mislabeled for reasons that no one was ever quite sure of. Instead of a network TV special, I found a grainy transfer from a VHS cassette of a guy in a a red bow tie demonstrating something called the "Arthur Buckley Multiple Shift."
While I never found a use for the Arthur Buckley multiple shift, I did learn that the clip was from The Encyclopedia of Card Sleights, an eight-cassette series that was... well... exactly what it said it was. Daryl was considered a master technician and his knowledge of magic — particularly close-up sleight of hand — was encyclopedic to the point where he became known as the "magicians' magician". On top of that he was delightfully entertaining and charming in an over-the-top cheesy sort of way that worked beautifully for him. He was a teacher and inspiration for a generation of magicians. Recently, Jamy Ian Swiss wrote a column about him, which does a good job of summarizing the impact he's had on the world of magic.
Last year I was involved in assembling an online exhibition which included two performances by Daryl on a Canadian television series filmed in Calgary; The Magic Palace. These would have been filmed about 1980, at a point in his career before he had won most of his awards. He had maintained that signature goofy style when I met him twice in Toronto over the past ten years. He gave a fantastic four-hour workshop in my friend's parents dining room.
Mental health issues like depression are hard to imagine in performers because they/we live a life where we are trained to be cheerful on command. In the past year, I've had to do shows immediately after a significant other broke up with me and immediately after the funeral for a friend and colleague.
The surprising thing is that it's not that difficult to do.
The muscle memory of performance — of lines and jokes and well rehearsed choreography — overcomes you and the response from an audience is a very effective way of placing you in the moment and blocking out the outside world. The problem is after, when the emotions are supposed to return, they don't come back quite right. Part of the grief and sadness gets brushed away or buried and never seems to get dealt with properly. Then it comes back in quiet moments. It's a very strange feeling.
For the past two days, this has dominated my Facebook news feed. Hidden amongst the condolences are some uplifting messages of people sharing their own experience with mental health issues. Slowly it's becoming something that people feel more free to talk about which is an essential step towards people being able to seek help.