The Magic of David Copperfield

David Copperfield

One of my favourite memories of the 80s is watching those great David Copperfield TV specials. Whether he’s walking through the Great Wall of China, or vanishing the Statue of Liberty, or escaping from Alcatraz, or just performing his many cool illusions on stage, he was undoubtedly one of the TWO greatest entertainers of that decade (the other being Michael Jackson).

I don’t know what he’s doing these days, probably still doing shows in Las Vegas. Today, his thunder as the premier TV illusionist seems to have been stolen from him by the likes of David Blaine and Criss Angel, but these guys can’t hold a candle to the brilliant showman that is Mr Copperfield.

Just check out these videos below (from Youtube and Metacafe) to see what I mean.

Prediction: David Copperfield predicts graffiti! A classic example of the sense of humour and fun Copperfield brings to stage illusion.

The Death Saw: Copperfield’s version of an escaping act – locked in a box located under a steel saw that drops every few seconds. Will he make it?

Panty Swap: A simple trick in execution (no, really, it’s just a different way of doing the same old switcheroo illusion) where Mr Copperfield demonstrates how presentation and style really is 90% of the entire act.

Great Wall of China: Copperfield walks through the Great Wall. One of his most memorable illusions, although I guess it doesn’t really look as impressive now as when I first saw it as a little boy. Perhaps I’m a little jaded – the whole silhouette thing is more boring nowadays.

Statue of Liberty: Another classic Copperfield illusion where he makes the Statue of Liberty disappear. I’ve read about some of the theories on how he managed to do this (one plausible theory is that the stage on the which the audience were seated was rotated gently while the curtains were raised, and when the curtain was dropped, what everyone was really looking at was the sea. Plausible, but difficult in theory to practice. Unless the audience members were in on it, in which case, it’s all good.)

The Fan (on Oprah): David Copperfield performs an illusion on Oprah. The audience go wild. They always do on Oprah.

Flying: One of Copperfield’s signature illusions – levitating over the audience. Some magicians would have just left it at levitating without any apparent support a few feet of the ground, but not Mr Copperfield. He has to actually fly.

Sliced by a Laser: A more recent Copperfield illusion, where he gets sliced by a laser beam. That in itself sounds so retro, something you might have believed in back in the 80s. But the after-effects of the ‘laser surgery’ is the real cool trick here.

Montage of his illusions: Best of David Copperfield
A 5-minute (approx) compilation of some of his performances over the last couple of decades. Just goes to show that there can only be one David Copperfield.

UPDATED: More videos….

Magic Models: David Copperfield brings a model to life from a sketch – and then erases her. I’d like to know that trick…. (Note that the quality of this video isn’t perfect, so the illusion doesn’t come off as well as one might expect…)

Tie: This is absolutely one of my favourite all-time Copperfield stage performances. Not necessarily the trick itself, which could be considered by magicians as a relatively basic illusion, but the entertainment factor which is the real major attraction here. Once again, Copperfield proves to be a master showman. And Harry Belafonte‘s song playing in the background sure is a real feet tapper….

The Orient Express: David Copperfield makes a train car disappear. I.. can’t… figure… it.. out…. Again, maybe the audience were in on it?

Talking to Spirits: I know this might appear blasphemous or bordering on sacrilege, but let’s remember this is all an illusion (an especially cool one) – David Copperfield wasn’t really communicating with ghosts…. I think…. Anyway, it’s pretty obvious the ‘volunteers’ were in on it.

Demolition Escape: David Copperfield is locked up in a safe in a building primed for demolition! Will he escape in time? The world holds its breath…

Snow Dreams: David Copperfield demonstrating yet another essential part of a good magic act – good storytelling, and bringing out a childlike sense of wonder in us.

The classic illusionist-assistant switcheroo: It’s been done many times, by many an illusionist, but it doesn’t lessen the wow factor. Wow!

Slow-Mo Duck: An absolutely hilarious, fun trick performed in front of the US President, with the help of Senator Tom Daschle and Webster the duck!

For more of Copperfield’s videos, search Youtube. I’m looking for more classic videos of his illusions, including the Alcatraz show, Bermuda Triangle, Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon levitation, and in particular, one stage trick he performed with neckties and Harry Belafonte background music etc. If you know of any of them, let me know and I’ll link it here. πŸ™‚

A bit of trivia (from Wikipedia):

  • His real name is David Seth Kotkin.
  • He began performing magic professionally at the age of 12, and became the youngest person ever admitted to the Society of American Magicians.
  • He played the character of Ken the magician in the 1980 horror film Terror Train.
  • Copperfield was engaged to the supermodel Claudia Schiffer, but the couple parted ways in 1999 after a six year relationship.

10 thoughts on “The Magic of David Copperfield”

  1. david blaine rehashes a lot of old tricks, and the camera plays off the reaction of the crowd. i don’t believe for a minute that he can actually read ppl’s mind. Criss Angel is just showmanship with not much substance. i love watching those ‘secrets of magic REVEALED’ tv shows!

  2. “The audience go wild. They always do on Oprah.”


    so true!

    my dad is a huge fan of magic and had loads of tricks up his sleeves in his heyday. i distinctly recall the Great Wall trick because my dad recorded it on tv and watched it again and again trying to figure out how he did it. in fact the whole show of his visit to china was awesome. πŸ™‚

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  4. hey shasi,

    hats of to you for this post. Its not a mere nostalgia, Copperfield was a legend in the field, the performance, the magic as with all his shows are well crafted and well executed. And his larger than life image, as a true magician cannot be swayed by the ‘dark’ tones that Blaine seems to portray. What people need more that hype is substance, and thats what Copperfield had all along and the new comers should learn a thing or two about. And yes, I think hes still performing in Vegas. Thanx for the vid links…next time I drop in penang might get the dvd…

  5. actually watched david copperfield live when he came to malaysia…I went to his show, twice! He was quite amazing and given that I was at the front row seat the first time, his illusion was seamless.

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