Doug Henning

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Doug Henning
Doug Henning 1976.JPG
Henning in 1976.
Born Douglas James Henning
May 3, 1947
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Died February 7, 2000(2000-02-07) (aged 52)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Liver cancer
Occupation Magician, illusionist, escape artist
Spouse(s) Barbara De Angelis
Debby Douillard

Douglas James Henning (May 3, 1947 – February 7, 2000) was a Canadian magician, illusionist, escape artist and politician.

Early life[edit]

Henning was born in the Fort Garry district of Winnipeg, Manitoba and began practicing magic at Oakenwald School in Fort Garry, later moving to Oakville, Ontario.

He performed his first show at the age of 14 at the birthday party of a friend and was inspired by his audience's spellbound reaction. Within a few months of placing an ad in a local newspaper, Henning launched a series of performances on local television in Toronto, and as an entertainer at parties.[citation needed]

He was a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and studied psychology.[1] Henning met Ivan Reitman there when he appeared in the 1968 Reitman-directed production of Li'l Abner in the role of Lonesome Polecat.[2]


Shortly after university, Henning was awarded a Canada Council for the Arts grant.[3] The terms of the grant required Henning to study magic. He did so, traveling to view first hand the talents of such magic greats as Slydini and Dai Vernon. Doug studied under Tony Slydini and considered him his primary teacher of magic.[4]

With the intention of returning magic to its “glory days”, Henning worked to perfect his craft. Garnering financial support, he developed a live theatrical show, Spellbound, directed by Ivan Reitman, with music by Howard Shore and co-starring actress Jennifer Dale, a musical that combined a dramatic story and Henning's magic tricks. The show opened in Toronto, where it broke box-office records. Henning reworked the show after catching the attention of New York producers, and took it to Broadway as The Magic Show, with songs composed by Stephen Schwartz. Debuting in 1974, the show ran for four and a half years, and earned Henning a Tony Award nomination.[5]

Following his Broadway success, Henning approached NBC with the idea of producing a television special. It wasn't until Henning suggested that he would reproduce live Harry Houdini's famous and dangerous water-torture escape — for the first time since Houdini performed it himself — that the NBC executives signed him.

Henning spent the next eight months reworking his stage act for TV and practicing the water-torture escape act. More than 50 million viewers tuned in for the December 1975 broadcast of Doug Henning's World of Magic, hosted by Bill Cosby. Henning successfully performed the water torture illusion, although he did not break Houdini's time record. The event was the first of seven annual broadcasts,[6] which would eventually bring Henning seven[7] Emmy Award nominations, including two back-to-back in 1976 and 1977 for World Of Magic.[8]

At the end of each World of Magic performance, Henning addressed the audience with the same monologue: "Anything the mind can conceive is possible. Nothing is impossible. All you have to do is look within, and you can realize your fondest dreams. I would like to wish each one of you all of life's wonders and a joyful age of enlightenment."[9]

In 1977, Henning co-wrote a biography of Houdini, Houdini: His Legend and His Magic.[10] He created illusions for an Earth, Wind and Fire tour in 1979,[11] and for two of singer Michael Jackson's concerts, including his 1984 Victory Tour.[12][13]

In 1980, Henning appeared on The Muppet Show where he performed several acts. He demonstrated chink-a-chink for Kermit the Frog's nephew Robin, segmented a Muppet monster into four pieces (and put him together wrong), and performed what he called "metamorphosis": a bit where he swapped places with an assistant who was locked inside a trunk.[14]

Henning divorced Barbara De Angelis in 1981 and married Debby Douillard in the Ladies' Dome in Fairfield, Iowa, in December of that year.[15][16]

In 1983, Henning was the producer and star of the Broadway musical Merlin.[1] In 1984, he began a solo show on Broadway called Doug Henning and His World of Magic.[1]

Henning was featured in television commercials during 1984 to promote the Plymouth Voyager minivan.

In 1985, a set of plush toys called "Doug & Debby Henning's: WONDER WHIMS" were made by Panosh Place and copyrighted by Marvin Glass and Associates. They were an attempt to get children to appreciate the magical wonders in the world around them.[citation needed] There were a total of six Wonder Whim characters. Each came with an animal friend, a personalized story, and a magic kaleidoscope wand of colors and patterns.[17]

Transcendental Meditation[edit]

In the mid 1980s, Henning retired from the stage and had an increasing interest in Transcendental Meditation.[1] He received a Ph.D in the Science of Creative Intelligence from the Maharishi University in Switzerland.[18]

In 1992, Henning and Transcendental Meditation founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi drafted plans for a $1.5 billion-dollar project called "Maharishi Veda Land" near Niagara Falls, Ontario[1] that would "combine astonishing, unique visual and sensory effects, state-of-the-art 3D imagery, and ultra high-tech entertainment technology with his best and most original magic illusion secrets".[19] Attractions were to include a building suspended above water and a journey into the heart of a rose but as of 2000 the project's status was uncertain.[1]

Political career[edit]

In 1992, Henning was a Natural Law Party candidate in the United Kingdom's general election, contesting the Parliamentary constituency of Blackpool South in Lancashire.[20] As a Canadian citizen, Henning qualified as a candidate under British electoral law, which allows candidates from Commonwealth nations. He finished fourth of four candidates, polling 173 votes. He was senior vice president of the Natural Law Party of Canada ("NLPC"), and ran as the party's candidate for the former Toronto riding of Rosedale in the 1993 federal election, finishing sixth out of ten candidates.[21][22][23]

General Election 1992: Blackpool South[24]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Nick Hawkins 19,880 45.2 −2.8
Labour Gordon Marsden 18,213 41.5 +9.4
Liberal Democrat Robert E. Wynne 5,673 12.9 −7.0
Natural Law Douglas Henning 173 0.4 N/A
Majority 1,667 3.8 −12.2
Turnout 43,939 77.3 +3.9
Conservative hold Swing −6.1
Canadian federal election, 1993
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Liberal Bill Graham 25,726 50.00 +8.78
Progressive Conservative David MacDonald 10,930 21.24 -20.12
Reform Daniel Jovkovic 6,413 12.46
New Democratic Jack Layton 5,547 10.78 -4.28
National Martin Lanigan 1,091 2.12
Natural Law Doug Henning 817 1.59
Green Leslie Hunter 483 0.94 +0.22
Independent Linda Dale Gibbons 350 0.68
Marxist–Leninist Steve Rutchinski 57 0.11
Abolitionist Yann Patrice D'Audibert Garcien 40 0.08
Total valid votes 51,454 100.00

Death and legacy[edit]

Henning died aged 52 in February 2000 at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles five months after being diagnosed with liver cancer.[1] His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean off Redondo Beach, California.[4]

James Randi, a fellow Canadian magician and prominent skeptic, was critical of Henning's involvement with Transcendental Meditation (TM).[25] In 2008, Randi asserted in his blog, SWIFT, that TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had "caused the death of my friend Doug Henning".[26] He claimed that Henning had immersed himself so thoroughly in TM that he "abandoned regular medical treatment for liver cancer, continued to pursue his diet of nuts and berries, and died of the disease."[26]

In 2005, a handwritten letter from Doug Henning to James Randi was placed for auction on eBay, unbeknownst to Randi. When Randi learned of it, he announced on his blog that the letter had been "stolen" from his files.[27] A week later, Randi wrote that he "managed to have the sale stopped" and that the letter was back in his possession but did not elaborate on further details of the controversy.[28]

On June 8, 2010, it was announced that Henning would receive a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.[29][30] His "Zig Zag Girl" illusion is housed at the American Museum of Magic.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g McKinley, Jesse (February 9, 2000). "Doug Henning, a Superstar Of Illusion, Is Dead at 52.". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  2. ^ Source: original McMaster production playbill[not specific enough to verify]
  3. ^ "Our cover: Douglas James Henning 1947 - 2000". The Linking Ring (The International Brotherhood of Magicians) 80 (4): 210. April 2000. 
  4. ^ a b "Doug Henning Bio". Genii
  5. ^ "1975 Tony Award Winners". BroadwayWorld.con. Retrieved January 10, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Henning TV Special A Smash". The Linking Ring (The International Brotherhood of Magicians) 57 (2): 37, 38. February 1977. 
  7. ^ "Magician Doug Henning Dies of Liver Cancer at 52" Los Angeles Times; February 9, 2000.
  8. ^ "Awards for Doug Henning". Retrieved January 10, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Doug Henning: Magician Addled by TM". Good Bye!: The Journal of Contemporary Obituaries. January 2000. Archived from the original on February 18, 2007. 
  10. ^ Henning, Doug (1978). "Houdini: His Legend and His Magic". Alibris ISBN lookup. Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-446-87328-4. Retrieved November 23, 2008. 
  11. ^ "Earth, Wind and Fire: The whirlwind". The Gazette (Montreal, Que). January 7, 1988. p. E3. 
  12. ^ Lacey, Liam (September 18, 1985). "Whimsical drama makes Henning's tricks a treat". The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ont). p. T.10. 
  13. ^ Arkatov, Janice (September 1, 1984). "Henning has wonder up his sleeve". Los Angeles Times. p. E2. 
  14. ^ Muppet Wiki: Doug Henning, episode filmed February 4-8, 1980
  15. ^ "Biography for Doug Henning (I)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved February 8, 2008. 
  16. ^ NAMES & FACES, Boston Globe, December 7, 1981
  17. ^ Long, Kim; Reim, Terry (1987). The American Forecaster, 1987. Running Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-89471-485-6. Retrieved February 13, 2012. 
  18. ^ Stone, Jay (October 23, 1993). "Let a smile be your platform". The Ottawa Citizen. p. E.1. 
  19. ^ “Maharishi Veda Land” description of Vedaland project
  20. ^ "Blackpool South Labour: Gordon Marsden". The Guardian (London). 
  21. ^ Gardner, Martin (May/June 1995). "Doug Henning and the Giggling Guru". Skeptical Inquirer. Vol 19.3.
  22. ^ "'Have rabbit, will travel': Yogic flyer's Natural Law Party failed to capture the imagination". National Post (UK). February 20, 2000.
  23. ^ "Rosedale, Ontario (1933-1996)". History of Federal Ridings Since 1867.
  24. ^ "Politics Resources". Election 1992. Politics Resources. 9 April 1992. Retrieved 6 December 2010. 
  25. ^ James Randi (September 19, 2008). "SWIFT September 19, 2008". James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Retrieved January 10, 2012. 
  26. ^ a b James Randi (February 8, 2008). "SWIFT February 8, 2008". James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  27. ^ Doctorow, Cory (June 1, 2005). "James Randi's letter from Doug Henning is stolen and on eBay". Retrieved January 10, 2012. 
  28. ^ James Randi (June 10, 2005). "SWIFT June 10, 2005". James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Retrieved January 10, 2012. 
  29. ^ Kaplan, Ben (October 16, 2010). "Walk of Fame group a magnificent seven". Victoria Times Colonist. Retrieved May 27, 2012. 
  30. ^ "2010 Inductees for The Canada Honours Announced". Canada's Walk of Fame. June 8, 2010. Retrieved June 9, 2010. 
  31. ^ Fajurid, Gabe (February 4, 1999). "Magic Museum provides mecca for experts, fans alike". The Michigan Daily. Archived from the original on May 1, 2008. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 

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