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Question: What was your scariest moment as an escape artist?

James Randi: Oh yeah.  Yeah, I came close at least twice to actually losing my life.  Well, one happened in Toronto, Canada, the other one happened in Edgewater, Nova Scotia.  I was sealed up in a coffin, they had cables fastened to me and they lowered me into the, I forgot—the LaHave River, I think it was outside of Halifax.  I hope I got these names right.  And they had a telephone with me and a microphone, headphones, the whole thing and I was there in the coffin.  There was a huge crowd out on the embankment.  It was some sort of a festival.  I don’t remember what it was exactly.  And they connected me with my mother who was back in Toronto, Canada.  And the phone rang and she picked it up and she said, “Hello.”  And I said, “Hi.  This is your son.”  And she said, “You sound funny.”  And I said, “Yeah, I’m in a coffin at the bottom of the LaHave River.”  And she said, “Oh come on.”  And I said, “Yes, I am.  And there’s a whole crowd of people out there listening to you.”  And she fell silent.  A little stage struck, I guess.  But eventually she got over that and we had a little bit of a chat.  And then I noticed something very strange happening.  There was mud starting to ooze over the transparent panel, the glass panel I had in the top of the coffin through which I could see the daylight up above me.  And I was under about six or eight feet of water held down by barbells and various things to weight me down.  And they had a diver in beside me in an old diving suit, on with a big round headpiece and... helmet, that is.  And he saw that I was slipping out of the harness and into the mud at the bottom of the LaHave River.  And but for his ingenuity, I might still be there someplace, rather wasted and waiting for a rescue, I would guess.  But the diver refitted the loop of cable around the coffin and I stayed down for the rest of the time and they finally hauled me up.  So, that was very close.  I could have drifted a way down the river with the heavy current, and they could have lost me altogether.  And what would the world be without me?  I mean, after all, let’s face it. 

Then the other example was, I got locked up in a safe in Toronto, Canada, in the Sun newspaper office.  I wanted to do a stunt that they would remember me for, and they had this steel safe and I jammed myself into it and barely got into the thing.  I told them to close the door and I would escape.  And my assistant, Moses, was outside at the time.  And I sort of depended on him and he had to help me out of this one too.  I worked at the door, pried on the back of the door and I saw the combination there and I felt the door coming out at me.  And I knew what that meant.  It was spring loaded in such a way that if anyone tried to knock the mechanism out of place, bars would jump in at the side of the safe and seal me in permanently.  And they could only cut me out with an acetylene torch and that would take, a long period of time at very high temperatures and I wouldn’t survive that.  So, I just said, “Moses.” And he said, “Yeah.”  I said; have them dial up the combination on the safe.  So, the manager sat down and I heard zip, zip, zip, zip, zip, zip, zip, zip, clunk.  No, zip, zip, zip, and I said, Moses, find the person who opens it every morning.  And a lady came over, the manager was breaking down, he couldn’t stand the tension.  So, she finally dialed it up and "click," the door fell open.  And I fell out on the floor.  I passed out as I fell out on the floor as a matter of fact.  So that was a second instance of my coming close to cashing in.

Recorded April 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

More from the Big Idea for Wednesday, June 16 2010


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