Growing up, I was always fascinated by magic. Anything that was the tiniest bit mystical, I was totally obsessed with. I don't know that I really loved the tricks of it all, but I wanted to know how it was done. I was the kid who analyzed every single movement and tried to outsmart the magician. For the record: that rarely happened.
But someone who I gave up on trying to figure out was David Copperfield. For almost 54 years, the illusionist has been shocking us with his ground-breaking tricks. There's a reason he grossed over $4 billion, more than any other solo entertainer in history.
Copperfield had a ton of iconic tricks, including making the Statue of Liberty disappear (WHAT!!), escaping a raft that was dropped into Niagara Falls while his arms and legs were restrained, cutting himself with a laser, and making his audience disappear.
For years, Copperfield has truly made people believe in magic. Even staunch non-believers have had to consider that maybe, just maybe, the illusionist really was dealing with powers beyond our knowledge.
However, in a lawsuit filed by former audience members, Copperfield was forced to reveal at least one of his iconic tricks, and it's something we've wanted to know for years.
Gavin Cox, a British man who visited Las Vegas in 2013, says he was severely injured during Copperfield's trick known as "Lucky #13" which is when he makes audience members disappear from the stage, and then reappear for the show's finale.
"What he wanted to do for his birthday was come to America, come to Las Vegas, go to the MGM Grand and see his idol perform," Cox's lawyer Benedict Morelli said.
Instead, Cox found himself in the hospital after the trick went awry.
"My client was put in a position where he was doing things that he didn't know he was going to do and he was injured as a result… you know, people just don't trip and get as injured as he got," Morelli said.
According to Cox's lawyer, his client suffered a traumatic brain injury as well as injuries to his spine and shoulder. He said his medical bills now total $1.3 million.
“It’s turned my life upside-down. I have pretty much constant pain, and my difficulty is my short-term memory," Cox said in 2016 "I have a ventilator. Otherwise, I stop breathing at night.”
Getting Copperfield to reveal the secrets behind his disappearing audience was no easy task. Understandably, the famed illusionist didn't want to give away the behind-the-scenes details about his act, even though it hasn't been performed in years.
But Morelli argued that it was crucial to the case. He asked that Copperfield take the stand so that it could be made clear how Lucky #13 is done.
“It’s important for me to examine him so that the jury can hear how the illusion is done,” Morelli said. “I’m going to be quizzing him in a very pointed way about exactly what happened and why my client was put in a position to be seriously injured."
Copperfield did appear in court, and he outlined how he and his stagehands decided who to pick for the illusion. Everyone is studied at the show, and audience members are chosen based off perceived capability.
The trick itself involves the audience members running down a dark, uneven "obstacle course," as Morelli describes it, only ushered by stagehands with flashlights. They have 60 to 90 seconds to get through the corridor, which includes doors, corners, and through a kitchen at the MGM Grand resort.
Morelli said audience members are not told in advance what to expect, and that they are often unprepared when it comes to the proper footwear.
Copperfield objected to that point.
“Seven times, we make an assessment. Visually watching them interact with their footwear. It’s like seven different screening moments,” Copperfield said in court. “If those shoes created a challenge, I would look carefully and see how they rock those shoes and I would know whether or not they would be able to do the piece.”
The plaintiff's original complaint says that's how he was injured.
“During the trick, Plaintiff was injured, when he was hurried with no guidance or instruction through a dark area under construction with cement dust and debris causing him to slip and fall,” the complaint filed in 2014 said.
The lawsuit is still ongoing, but it's already a massive victory for Morelli that Copperfield was forced to reveal the magic behind his trick.
That being said, it's not the only time big tricks have had their secrets unveiled.
Chinese Water Torture Cell
Harry Houdini, the most famous magician to ever live, first performed this iconic trick in 1912. He was chained, hung upside down, and submerged in a tank of water while their feet are locked to the top of the tank. Houdini's plan was to escape, but of course no one though it would happen. It did, though, and minds were blown.
So how does it work?
To start, you do have to be in good shape. But you get a little help from your assistants. As they go to lock the tank shut, they also remove the pin from the hinge, which means it can be pushed open with the magician's feet. There's also a strategically placed key in the tank, which unlocks the very loose restraints.
Statue of Liberty Disappearing
In addition to making his audience disappear, Copperfield also did the same with the Statue of Liberty. His intention was to remind everyone "how precious liberty is and how easily it can be lost. I can show with magic how we take our freedom for granted."
The trick was broadcast on television, and it blew everyone's minds. Copperfield placed a large screen in front of the famed statue. When the screen dropped, Lady Liberty was nowhere to be found. A helicopter showed spotlights passing through the statue. It was pretty amazing.
But how did he manage to do it? He promised there were no camera tricks, but obviously the Statue of Liberty didn't actually disappear.
Lady Liberty was hiding behind one of the towers when the curtain lifts up originally, and when it drops, the bright lights all around make it impossible to see.
Everyone assumes that the lights are those around the statue, so when spotlights go through the presumed location, it seems as though it has vanished. However, what really happened is that the lights on Liberty Island were turned off, and a separate platform of lights is turned on.
But it takes a little more than a platform of lights to make the trick happen. The entire audience gets moved!
When the sheet is lifted, the stage Copperfield and the audience are standing on shifts to the right, blocking the statue from view. The loud music playing on stage covers up the noise and vibration of the moving stage.
Pretty incredible that Copperfield and his team were able to pull off such an amazing feat!