James Randi, the magician, skeptic, and frequent guest of The Tonight Show who later became known for debunking those magic acts, as well as the paranormal, and who came out as gay at the age of 81 in 2010, has died. He was 92.
The NYT reports: “At once elfin and Mephistophelian, with a bushy white beard and piercing eyes, Mr. Randi — known professionally as the Amazing Randi — was a father of the modern skeptical movement. Much as the biologist and author Thomas Henry Huxley had done in the late 19th century (though with markedly more pizazz), he made it his mission to bring the world of scientific rationalism to laypeople. What roiled his blood, and was the driving impetus of his existence, Mr. Randi often said, was pseudoscience, in all its immoral irrationality.”
We covered Randi’s coming out in 2010, when he wrote, on a statement on his website: “Well, here goes. I really resent the term, but I use it because it’s recognized and accepted. I’m gay. From some seventy years of personal experience, I can tell you that there’s not much ‘gay’ about being homosexual. For the first twenty years of my life, I had to live in the shadows, in a culture that was — at least outwardly — totally hostile to any hint of that variation of life-style. At no time did I choose to adopt any protective coloration, though; my cultivation of an abundant beard was not at all a deception, but part of my costume as a conjuror.”
Randi continued: “Gradually, the general attitude that I’d perceived around me began to change, and presently I find that there has emerged a distinctly healthy acceptance of different social styles of living — except, of course, in cultures that live in constant and abject fear of divine retribution for infractions found in the various Holy Books… In another two decades, I’m confident that young people will find themselves in a vastly improved atmosphere of acceptance.”
NBC News reports: “For all the analysis Randi put into seemingly everything, he still found delight in observing magic he knew was a stunt or watching a film that was just fantasy. He talked about the crushing feelings of watching a friend die and spoke of the magic of love. In 2010, he announced he was gay. In 2013, he married his longtime partner, Deyvi Pena, at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. He was the subject of a 2014 documentary, ‘An Honest Liar.’ Penn Jillette, a magician in the mold of Randi, mourned his friend on Twitter on Wednesday night, writing: ‘We will never forget that without Randi, there would not be Penn & Teller. It’s really that simple.’ Randi said he couldn’t help feeling angry that his targets always seemed to perform escape acts of their own, continuing to win new followers and earn checks he said were cashed at reality’s expense. He wanted to see frauds punished, but he recognized most people wanted to believe.”