As a nation, Canada has produced the greatest magicians of the 20th century, and perhaps none greater than Doug Henning. In the 1970s Doug Henning single-handedly resurrected a venerable performing art, blazed a trail that others could follow and, through his shows on Broadway, television, and touring, performed for more people than any other magician in history.
Born in Winnipeg on May 3, 1947, Henning received his first box of magic tricks on his 7th birthday. The seed sprouted, however, after he saw the great Peruvian magician, Richiardi, Jr. levitate a woman on The Ed Sullivan show on October 14, 1956, and Doug experience "the sense of wonder".
Doug performed for family and friends throughout his teenage years and, after the family moved to Oakville, Ontario, he placed advertisements that said: "Magician, Have Rabbit, Will Travel." In 1967, Doug enrolled at McMaster University in Hamilton to study psychology. Doug continued to perform, often in the coffee houses and clubs in Yorkville, and as far away as the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. In 1971, Doug applied to the Canada Council for a grant to study magic. He argued that: magic + theatre = art. Successful, Doug parlayed that grant into lessons with Tony Slydini in New York, and Dai Vernon in Los Angeles, two of the world's master magicians.
Doug returned to Toronto, and with fellow McMaster student Ivan Reitman, staged Spellbound, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in December 1973. The show, which broke box office records, was directed and produced by Reitman, featured a book by David Cronenberg, music by Howard Shore, costumes by Marilyn Brooks, and Doug performing some of the great illusions in magic, but in a contemporary manner. Doug banished the magician's traditional top hat, tails and inane banter for a thoroughly modern look that ignited the audience's sense of wonder. Magic would never be the same.
The show, with a new book and score, opened a four-and-a-half year run on Broadway on May 28, 1974 at the Cort Theatre as The Magic Show. On December 26, 1975, NBC broadcast Doug Henning's World of Magic, a live-live broadcast to over 50 million people. In the U.S., six out of every ten television sets tuned into the Doug Henning special. In one evening, Doug had performed for more people than Harry Houdini had in his entire career. It was now Doug's name that was synonymous with magic.
Over the next ten years, Doug had seven more NBC television specials, two other shows on Broadway including Merlin, which ran nine months at the Mark Hellinger Theatre and was nominated for five Tony Awards, conducted several tours of major theatres throughout Canada and the United States, and was the first magician to headline a show in Las Vegas. His long runs at Caesar's Palace and the MGM Grand transformed Las Vegas into the magic capital of the world.
A longtime practitioner of transcendental mediation, Doug retired from performing in 1986 to pursue work on behalf of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Doug Henning died on February 7, 2000, age 52, from liver cancer.
In the mid 1980s Henning retired from the stage and had an increasing interest in Transcendental Meditation. He received a Ph.D in the Science of Creative Intelligence from the Maharishi University in Switzerland.
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