I woke up this morning to the news that the legendary UK magician, Paul Daniels, had passed away. Paul was a theatre performer, television star and self-described sex symbol. I have many colleagues, older than me, who were deeply influenced by him, and I have seen several posts on Facebook from friends claiming that they are professional magicians today because of him. I am a generation too late for that. I had the opportunity to meet him briefly once when he headlined the Magi-Fest convention in Columbus, OH. I was assisting back stage with the gala show, a large stage production with tickets sold to the public featuring the performers from the convention. He and his wife Debbie were co-hosting the evening. Back stage during the show they were both so incredibly prepared and relaxed. You felt that putting on a show came to them as naturally as breathing.
I only had two responsibilities that night. The first was helping to carry Ardan James on stage (for reasons that are unlikely to become clear any time soon.) The second was collecting the sponge balls left behind after Tom Stone's Benson Burner (tl/dw there are 300 of them). It actually turned out that there was slightly more to it than that. My responsibility was collecting the sponge balls up off the stage without looking up Debbie McGee's dress; a task which I think I performed rather adequately.
But what I truly remember from that convention was actually seeing Paul Daniels at that convention. I've been to many such conventions where the guests of honour — who tend to be a little bit older — hide in their rooms and only turn up for their scheduled appearances. This was as far from that as I could imagine. Every time I would walk down a hallway I would see Paul standing or sitting with a different group, often with younger magicians, shaking hands signing things and answering questions. Seeing that, more than anything he said or performed at that convention, had a tremendous impact on me.
Since he performed more magic on TV than probably anyone else in history, there is no chance of him being forgotten any time soon. For those who are unfamiliar with his work, here is a tiny taste of what he brought to the art form: