Watching David Copperfield perform can often be a real “trip,” one that magically transports his audiences to another place. That’s because, to the famed master illusionist, reality is far from being the only way to fly.
Indeed, Copperfield’s ticket to fame has been that he has consistently gone where no man has gone before – he has walked through the Great Wall of China, levitated himself across the Grand Canyon, gone over Niagara Falls inside a locked box chained to a burning pontoon boat, flown (without a plane), and vanished people in his audiences to a deserted island on the other side of the world, as an example. But here in Las Vegas, in his performances in the Hollywood Theater at the MGM Grand where he is the resident headliner, Copperfield is handily proving that having one’s head in the clouds can lead to trailblazing things and that “the impossible dream” is all an illusion.
“The things that people have responded to in my shows have been based on dreams – like my flying,” he explains. “That illusion was really based on my dream of flying. A lot of people share that dream. What I do is a combination of trying to use magic to tell stories, sharing ideas, enticing people to dream and hopefully inspiring them. My magic is a metaphor to remind people to follow their dreams and to do the impossible in their own lives. In fact, my brand new show that I am introducing in 2014 is called ‘Live the Impossible.’”
Whether flying free around the stage or standing with his feet on the ground, Copperfield has undeniably taken magic to new heights. He has been acclaimed by Forbes as the most commercially successful magician in history, has done over $4 billion in ticket sales over his more than 30-year career, and has achieved 11 Guinness World Records, being touted by that organization as the highest grossing solo entertainer of all time, outselling the likes of Madonna, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson and Elvis. Presley.
Success for the iconic illusionist came early in life although his interest in magic happened gradually. He remembers as a child of six or seven wanting to be a ventriloquist after watching Paul Winchell and his dummy, Jerry Mahoney, on The Ed Sullivan Show on television.
“My parents bought me a dummy,” Copperfield, who was born the son of Jewish immigrants in Metuchen, New Jersey, recalls. “But I was pretty bad at it. I even went to Macy’s to try and buy a better dummy. But while out shopping, I went to Cannon’s Magic Store in New York and walked around. It was a small store but I felt like I was in heaven. I started teaching myself magic when I was eight. When I was about 10 or 11, I started going to the library and taking out books on magic. I read about the effects, not the solutions. I challenged myself to come up with solutions that were better than the ones in the book. It was very easy for me.
“My parents were very supportive of me in the beginning,” he continues. “But they were not supportive when I decided to make magic my career – they wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer. My first illusion was making my teacher disappear – it was very popular.”
His given name being David Seth Lotkin, he began performing in his neighborhood as “Davino the Boy Magician” at the age of 10 and, at 12, he became the youngest person to be admitted into the Society of American Magicians. As a kid, he was also published in the prestigious Tarbell Encyclopedia of Magic and, at 16, he was teaching magic at New York University (NYU). He was 17 or 18 when he decided to change his name to David Copperfield, taking the name of the Charles Dickens character at the suggestion of a friend.
“My real passion has always been storytelling, movies, theater and Broadway,” he reveals. “I wanted a name that could go beyond magic and be appropriate for an actor or director. My inspirations weren’t Houdini or other magicians; they were Orson Welles, Frank Capra, Victor Fleming and Walt Disney. From them, I learned to push things a little further, to use storytelling in my art form, and to respect the audience, I’ve always tried to incorporate these things in my magic.
Copperfield notes that when people go to movies, they are actually witnessing a little piece of magic on film. He also says that moviemakers have used some of the illusions in film that magicians have performed on stage and have then combined them with storytelling. Copperfield actually joined the cast of the 2012 movie Burt Wonderstone and he and his team created some of the illusions for it.
While he says that magic has always been at the forefront of technology, Copperfield maintains that it takes the individual illusionist to invent new magic. He has always tried to stay ahead of the game, infusing his art with new technology before that technology becomes commonplace. Copperfield, who has a museum library with about 80,000 items in it pertaining to magic, says that the basis for his illusions are principles he is developing that simply do not exist in the history of magic or anywhere else for that matter. Rather, he works with the laws of Mother Nature.
That’s why audiences who attend his show at the MGM will get to witness everything from intimate, close-up magic to the largest illusions ever staged. As Copperfield puts it, people can expect to see magic differently than they have before. Some of the illusions he has performed include his walking through an industrial steel fan, levitating a member of the audience IN the audience, vanishing 13 random people all at one time, and making a car appear on stage. He devises all his own illusions and builds them with his team; he has a huge magic warehouse in Las Vegas.
Each illusion takes him two to three years to complete and he will beta tests parts of it on the audience before putting it in his show. He is always working, always creating, always pushing new territory and driving his art forward. One of his favorite illusions is his flying one, which he calls “beautifully pure” and which he says transports the audience physically and emotionally.
“I’ve done some very dangerous things,” he admits. “I went over Niagra Falls, hung from burning ropes over spikes, and was inside a building that was being imploded. But today, with anything you do physically on stage from high platforms, you can get hurt pretty badly.”
When he’s not on stage performing, you might just find Copperfield on Twitter, tweeting to his large following of fans. While in the beginning, social media was unknown territory to him, he now thinks it’s “awesome.”
“Performers used to get on stage and talk to an audience,” he acknowledges. “Now we can have a two-way conversation with them.”
Along with preparing for some new projects he cannot yet reveal, Copperfield is busily working on Project Magic, a rehabilitation program that helps disabled patients regain lost or damaged dexterity skills, which he created in 1982 and is used in 1,100 hospitals in 30 countries around the world.
Now you see him…now you’ll see him again and again.