Johnny Fox (performer)

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Johnny Fox
Johnny Fox performing at 2007 Maryland Renaissance Festival - 05.jpg
Fox performing as a sword swallower at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in 2007
John Robert Fox

(1953-11-13)November 13, 1953
DiedDecember 17, 2017(2017-12-17) (aged 64)
OccupationSword swallower, performer, magician
Johnny Fox performing cups and balls at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in 2017, few months before his death

John Robert Fox (November 13, 1953 – December 17, 2017) was an American professional sword swallower and sleight of hand expert.[1][2][3]

Early life[edit]

Fox was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota,[4] and grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. He saw his first sword swallower at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts, when he was eight or nine years old.[2][5] At approximately the same age, his father gave him a book about Harry Houdini which inspired Fox—substituting spaghetti—to recreate the magician's trick of swallowing a key on a string and then regurgitating it.[5]

Performance career[edit]

Fox began performing magic and comedy while working as a waiter in Saint Petersburg, Florida.[6] He learned sleight-of-hand in the 1970s from Tony Slydini, an Italian magician known as "the Master of Misdirection".[2] In his early twenties, Fox was performing in Boulder, Colorado, when he heard that his act had been stolen by a competing magician.[5] He was inspired to begin swallowing swords in order to have "an act people couldn't copy easily".[5] It took him eight months to master the technique, although he injured himself on several occasions learning it.[5] Fox estimated in 1999 he was one of only twenty professional sword swallowers in the United States, noting there were many more than when he began.[5][6]

Fox could swallow up to 22 inches of steel.[6] Besides swallowing regular swords, his act included swallowing a retractable tape measure, a giant screwdriver and a neon glowing sword plugged into an outlet.[5] His act also included eating fire-until he learned that the chemicals used in the trick could seep into his liver.[2]

Fox appeared at such venues as comedy clubs, casinos, and tattoo conventions, as well as special events such as an Aerosmith album release party.[5][6] His television appearances include the Late Show with David Letterman, a 1992 Jonathan Winters television special, and a Maalox commercial in which he swallowed light bulbs.[5][6][7] He was featured in the 2003 documentary Traveling Sideshow: Shocked and Amazed by Jeff Krulik.[6]

Fox was the resident sword-swallower at the annual Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, and performed there from 1981 through 2017.[6] Prior to the festival's 2017 season, the festival's Royal Stage, where Fox performed, was renamed to the Royal Fox Theatre in his honor.[1] He began performing at the Sterling Renaissance Festival in Sterling, New York in 1997.[8] He occasionally worked as a consultant for other sideshow artists.[2]


In June 1999, Fox opened the Freakatorium, El Museo Loco, a museum of side show curiosities, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.[2] In the face of low numbers of visitors and rising rent, the museum was closed in January 2005.[2] Fox was partly inspired to open the museum by his childhood visits to Hubert's Museum and Flea Circus in Times Square.[2] His collection of oddities includes narwhal tusks, an elephant's-foot liquor chest, a two-headed turtle, a vest owned by General Tom Thumb, and the glass eye of Sammy Davis, Jr..[2]

Personal life[edit]

Fox married his wife, Valeria, an Argentine dancer and photographer, while they were atop elephants in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2002.[9] They resided in Seymour, Connecticut.[2]

Illness and death[edit]

Johnny Fox memorial at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in 2018

In the fall of 2016, Fox was diagnosed with hepatitis-C and cirrhosis of the liver and tumors.[10] Then, in the winter of 2016, Fox slipped on black ice at his home in Connecticut which, combined with his liver problems, put him in a coma for several days.[10]

After waking up from his coma, he received treatment in a cancer treatment facility in Arizona which specialized in alternative medicine. He later recovered enough to return to performing at the Maryland Renaissance Festival for the fall 2017 season.[10]

Fox died on Sunday, December 17, 2017, of liver cancer, aged 64.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Felice, Selene San. "Remembering Ren Fest's Sword Swallower Johnny Fox". Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Feuer, Alan. "Pickled Piglets and Other Curiosities, in Exile." The New York Times, 2005-06-04, p. B1.
  3. ^ Genzlinger, Neil, Johnny Fox, Sword-Swallowing Showman, Dies at 64, The New York Times, December 19, 2017
  4. ^ "Johnny Fox Biography". 9 September 2011. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Louie, Elaine (1999-06-06). "Neighborhood Report – Lower East Side – A Man Who Lives by the Sword". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-24.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Montgomery, David. "Strange Attraction: As Sideshows Vanish from the Midway, a Film Recalls Their Glory Days." The Washington Post, 2003-10-24, p. C1.
  7. ^ "Open Up and Say AHHH!" CNN Live Today. 2002-09-03
  8. ^ Murphy, Justin. "Fare thee well for 2011." The Citizen (Auburn), 2011-08-22.
  9. ^ Lee, Jennifer. "A Sword-Swallowing Collector Closes an Odd Little Museum." The New York Times, 2005-01-01, p. B6.
  10. ^ a b c Boyle, Tara (October 14, 2017). "Sword Swallower Makes Triumphant Return As He Battles Severe Health Issues". National Public Radio All Things Considered. Retrieved October 17, 2017.

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