Who are the most famous magicians of all time? Who is the best magician in the world? Well, ‘best’ is of course, subjective. But here’s the list of the most exciting, amazing magicians that have changed the face of modern magic. There will be some names here that you recognise and maybe a few new magicians names for you that you haven’t heard of.
My name is Alan Hudson, I’m a stage performer and a virtual magician and I’ve been performing magic professionally for over 30 years. In that time, many magicians have appeared and changed the landscape.
There have been a lot of famous magicians in history. Not as many as actors, singers or comedians maybe but there are hundreds of famous magicians who have all changed the face of magic. Most magicians, when they become famous, usually spawn hundreds of younger magicians who all want to be like them. You can usually watch a top magician and guess which famous magician they were influenced by. And of course, even the best magicians were also influenced by the ones that came before them.
Famous Magicians USA
David Copperfield. David Copperfield is the most famous magician in the world. From performing huge scale illusions on stage to even bigger illusions outside (making the Statue of Liberty disappear, vanishing an airplane surrounded by people or walking through the Great Wall of China), he influenced most of the people you see now performing big style illusions on stage.
In the 80’s and 90’s David Copperfield had the best TV shows featuring magic. They always ended with a huge trick but it was the close up magic and stage illusions that were the most amazing. He would not only escape from a building, but would also amaze just as much with making a coin disappear.
David’s show in Las Vegas is still incredible with amazing magic. I doubt we will ever see another magician in our lifetime as famous and successful as David Copperfield. He is definitely the world’s most famous magician. He’s also estimated to have a net worth of 1 Billion dollars!
When I was 18, I travelled to USA to see the Copperfield show. I’d read an amazing review in a UK based weekly magic magazine called ‘Abracadabra’ by Alan Alan. He told of the amazing things that Copperfield was doing in the show and said you MUST see the show. So, I did. I travelled across America taking in other shows by Lance Burton, Siegfried and Roy amongst others first.
The last show on my tour was to see David Copperfield in Chicago. Not only was it the first time I saw the Snowing illusion (he made it snow in the theatre) he also flew, live on stage. And not only flew, but through hoops, in a glass box etc. He even took a member of the audience up in the air too. Still, the most magical experience of my life and will no doubt go down in history as the most successful and one of the most famous magicians of all time.
It’s still incredible. Watch this…
The key bits here are, it was done in front of a live audience that would have been fooled by the magic. It was not simply a camera trick. I think the staging of it, with the radar, the live audience, the helicopter going over and the music is outstanding. Obviously it looks a bit dated now, but at the time it all looked very modern. I’m pretty sure if David Copperfield did this trick today, he would probably use a similar method too. This has gone down in history as one of the most famous illusions of all time. I certainly think it’s one of the best.
Doug Henning. Like David Copperfield, Doug Henning usually did stage illusions but the style was completely different. Doug had more of a hippy vibe going on with bright, colourful clothing. This certainly made him unique and undeniably one of the top magicians in the world. Instead of dancing with a woman to some moody music, Doug would be jumping around the stage like someone from San Francisco in the Summer of 69. I absolutely loved Doug Henning. He never went in for the huge iconic illusions like David Copperfield. All of his material was stuff he would perform on stage. Henning had a show, The Magic Man that ran on Broadway. Unique and something I’ve not really seen since. He also had the best ‘Things That Go Bump in the Night’ illusion routine that I’ve ever seen. Fun, magical and absolutely amazing.
Penn & Teller
Penn & Teller. These guys came along a little later and, like all the best famous magicians, broke the mould again. They brought something completely new to the party. They branded themselves as the ‘bad boys of magic’. Their gimmick was that they were revealing how the tricks were done and brought an anarchic style. Tricks such as getting run over by a huge lorry and then showing how the tyres were made of sponge and one side of the lorry was weighted. Even when you knew how the tricks were done didn’t make it any less enjoyable or amazing to watch.
Magicians were outraged at first thinking they were breaking the magicians code (this was before the Masked Magician came along).
When Penn & Teller started their show Fool Us (you had to go on to try and fool Penn & Teller, 2 of the most famous and best magicians in the world), I was first in line back in 2011. Then, in 2022 I tried again. This time in Las Vegas. Here is my attempt to fool 2 very famous magicians…
David Blaine. In a twist to all the TV stage magicians, Blaine brought magic to the streets. No big boxes or flashy assistants, David performed card tricks, coin magic and other small illusions to normal people on the streets rather than in a studio. Also, his shows focused more on the reaction of the person he was doing the trick with rather than the trick itself. No funny lines or comedy asides, it was all about showing a piece of magic and waiting for the person to respond. Sounds simple and straight forward, but back in 1997, this was revolutionary and changed the face of magic on TV.
David Blaine is estimated to have a net worth of $40 million.
Blaine went to different parts of America for his magic. Some of my favourite clips were ones like this…
Lance Burton. Lance was the classic magician. I say was, he’s still alive as I write this but he has retired. Lance was the type of magician you’d expect to see. Top hat, tails and making doves appear. He just did it better than anyone else. Unusually for this type of magician, he was also good talker. Often a ‘silent act’ magician has a 10 minute act and nothing much more than that. Lance Burton was also brilliant at talking on stage which is what led to his show in Las Vegas being once of the most successful magic shows of all time.
Lance’s illusion show ran for years at various Las Vegas hotels. But most magicians will forever remember him for his incredible dove act.
Siegfried and Roy
Siegfried and Roy. The pioneers of the Las Vegas magic show. Well known for performing with tigers and other animals. Siegfried and Roy were over the top and the epitome of the 70’s style, showbiz magician that is caricatured today in films and TV. However, this didn’t make them any less brilliant. They were the absolute masters of the grand scale illusion spectacular. I saw their show in Vegas in the early 90’s and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any other show like it since. They will probably remain the most famous magicians in the history of Las Vegas.
Harry Houdini was a famous magician, illusionist, and escape artist who was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born as Erik Weisz in Hungary in 1874 and later immigrated to the United States, where he became known as Harry Houdini.
Houdini is most famous for his elaborate and daring escapes, which often involved chains, ropes, and locked containers. He was known for his ability to escape from seemingly impossible situations, such as being handcuffed and shackled in a locked box that was submerged in water. Houdini was also a skilled magician and performer, and he often incorporated illusions and magic tricks into his escapes.
Throughout his career, Houdini traveled widely and performed his acts in front of large audiences. He became one of the most famous and successful entertainers of his time and was renowned for his showmanship and ability to captivate his audience.
Houdini died in 1926 at the age of 52. Despite his death, Houdini’s legacy has lived on and he is still considered one of the greatest magicians and escape artists in history.
Famous Magicians UK
You can often tell which magician someone used to watch most when they were younger by the style they have now adopted. For me it was Paul Daniels. Paul was the most famous magician in the UK when I was growing up and on TV every Saturday night. His shows would average around 15 million people each week. That means around 1 in 4 people would tune in each week to watch Paul and his his assistant, the lovely Debbie McGee perform. His main schtick was comedy magic, so no surprise that when I looked for inspiration as to what type of magician I would become, I followed suit.
Paul Daniels wasn’t the only famous magician on TV, but he was certainly the biggest in the UK. ITV had their own magician, Wayne Dobson who I also loved. Wayne was younger, fresher and had Linda Lusardi (a page 3 model) as his assistant. Wayne also performed comedy magic so I was no doubt hugely influenced by him too. However, Paul was the undoubted master of magic on TV. This is one of his most famous routines. A very simple looking trick with just one cup and one ball….
Dynamo made it big on TV and is probably most famous for walking on the river Thames and putting a borrowed mobile phone in a bottle. He went on to huge success and even performed a huge arena tour, performing to thousands of people each night. After the walking on water trick, he made headline news the day after he did it all across the UK.
Derren Brown is probably the greatest mind reader of all time. He is without doubt the greatest living mind reading performer. When Derren first hit our TV screens he too changed magic forever. Even magicians who wouldn’t have gone near mind reading type tricks before are now adding psychology in to their mental magic and trying to emulate what they saw him do on TV. Me included.
The Great Soprendo
The Great Soprendo. Real name Geoffrey Durham, The Great Soprendo used to be on TV all the time when I was growing up. A rather camp, Spanish character who would appear on TV shows like Crackerjack. I always liked him as he gave the illusion that he was just messing around, but would actually perform some incredible magic.
Tommy Cooper. Although most people thought he was a brilliant magician pretending to be bad, Tommy wasn’t really a great magician. By all accounts, he was as bad as he appeared to be. However, he is probably one of the funniest performers ever so deserves to be in this list of famous magicians.
David Nixon. Just before Paul Daniels appeared on the UK TV scene, the gentleman of magic, David Nixon was the most famous magician on TV. His very relaxed style was worlds apart from the fast, working man’s club style of Daniels. Nixon would often have guests on the show at his ‘bar’ and perform nice pieces of magic in a very relaxed manner without any of the volunteer put downs that became popular after Paul Daniels came along.
Famous Female Magicians
There have been many talented and successful female magicians throughout history. Here are a few famous examples:
Adelaide Herrmann: Also known as “The Queen of Magic,” Adelaide Herrmann was a famous magician who performed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was the first woman to perform the “bullet catch” trick, and she was known for her elaborate stage costumes and grand illusions.
Maria Lencia: (1870-1943): Maria Lencia was a magician and illusionist who was born in Italy and later immigrated to the United States. She was known for her elaborate stage performances, which often involved elaborate costumes and props. Lencia was also the first woman to perform the “sawing a woman in half” illusion, which had previously been performed only by men.
Julie Eng: Julie Eng is a Chinese-Canadian magician and illusionist who has been performing for over 25 years. She is known for her elegant and graceful stage presence and has won numerous awards for her magic performances. Eng is also the co-founder of the Magicana organization, which promotes the art of magic and supports emerging magicians.
For the first time, the president of The Magic Circle has recently got its first female magician, Megan Swann. Also, with talent shows such as Britain’s Got Talent highlighting female magicians such as Izzy Simpson, Josephine Lee and Kat Hudson, hopefully we will see more and more becoming famous.